The SABC office in Auckland Park, Johannesburg. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
The SABC office in Auckland Park, Johannesburg. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Former SABC board chairman Ben Ngubane says the plan to air The New Age’s business breakfasts is beneficial to the public broadcaster and does not cost the corporation money. Ngubane was speaking on Friday when he appeared before Parliament’s ad hoc committee looking into the crisis at the SABC.

"As far as I am concerned it’s a normal outside broadcast based on a business plan which does not take money from the SABC," said Ngubane, who is currently Eskom board chairman.

In December, Vuyo Mvoko, formerly an SABC contributing editor, told the ad hoc committee that the financially hamstrung public broadcaster has been channeling money — up to R500m — to ANN7, the Gupta-owned rival 24-hour news TV station, in order to air the business breakfasts.

He said the SABC was essentially using its own money and resources to build ANN7 up, but Ngubane told the committee that Mvoko was "not talking from knowledge when he claimed [the SABC] was subsidising the breakfast shows".

"It [broadcasting the business breakfast] came as an initiative from the news sections, which hosts a lot of outside broadcasts … the show was flighted 16 times [before a board decision was taken to make it a regular fixture]. Because it was a regular feature we requested a business plan and the explanations were convincing and that is why we went with it," Ngubane said. "For us it was about fulfilling the mandate of informing the community about government."

The breakfast shows usually feature high ranking government officials.

In December, Sipho Masinga, a former IT executive at the SABC, told the inquiry that Nazeem Howa, the previous head of Gupta-owned Oakbay, presented the SABC with a three-page document that effectively detailed plans by the Gupta company to take over the public broadcaster’s news department.

Masinga said the meeting with the SABC executives and Howa took place before ANN7 was established (in 2013). It is believed that controversial former chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng supported the plan. The document proposed that SABC news be rebranded; that SABC supply journalists; and that Gupta-controlled TNA (the Gupta’s media company) retain advertising revenue. Masinga said he rejected the proposal.

On Friday, ad hoc committee chairman Vincent Smith asked Ngubane why TNA would "charitably subsidise" a rival station by allowing it to air its business breakfasts. "I am struggling to find an example of a company that would give air space to its rival. ANN7 is an SABC rival yet we have ANN7 breakfast shows flighted on SABC … there has to be a cost," said Smith.

But Ngubane insisted there were no costs to the SABC and that the arrangement was of benefit to the public broadcaster. He advised the committee to call in relevant experts at the SABC who had knowledge of the arrangement.

"ANN7 is not involved in the business breakfasts [production] … it is an SABC production … if The New Age or TNA arranges a breakfast show and they do not get sponsorships or people do not buy tickets, it has nothing to do with us, it’s their loss or gain," said Ngubane.

Smith said it was blatantly clear that "someone" was misleading the ad hoc committee. "Somebody has misled Parliament … somebody has to pay for it … one is saying they [the SABC] initiated [the arrangement with TNA], and another is saying SABC initiated it. One is saying the arrangement costs and another is saying there are no costs … this is perjury and somebody has to go to jail. For the first time it has become blatantly clear that something is definitely not correct … we will have to [investigate further]," said Smith.

The inquiry continued later on Friday.


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