SABC television studios in Auckland Park. Picture: KEVIN SUTHERLAND
SABC television studios in Auckland Park. Picture: KEVIN SUTHERLAND

The SABC says it now considers its request for a R3bn government guarantee an "option B" and is pursuing other avenues to address its financial quagmire.

The public broadcaster, which is in the midst of a financial crisis, has been waiting for a government guarantee for the better part of the year, but its request has yet to be approved by the Treasury.

To make matters worse, some of its staff went on a strike on Thursday demanding a 10% pay hike. The broadcaster says it can afford only a 4.5% increase. The strike disrupted programming and it is feared that the industrial action could limit the coverage of the ANC elective conference, due to start on Saturday.

"We are in a desperate situation … we have put in two requests [for a government guarantee] and unfortunately both have not yielded anything," SABC chairman Bongumusa Makhathini said.

"We have to explore other avenues … government guarantees are actually an option B now. We cannot continue to pursue something that has not yielded anything positive. We have to look at other avenues that can be of assistance to the SABC," Makhathini said.

"What is putting us under a lot of pressure is what we owe our creditors. We owe over R500m and with all the interest that is accumulating we will soon approach R600m plus."

The SABC could not afford to meet the pay demands of the striking employees, he said. "Under the current prevailing circumstances it is impossible for us to be more flexible … if we are to try do anything beyond what we have put on the table we will actually plunge this organisation into an even deeper financial crisis."

The SABC, said Makhathini, would look at establishing partnerships and becoming a content aggregator, among other measures to boost revenue.

"The truth is the SABC has got quite a valuable offering that it can give from a content perspective … we need to start exploring beyond our traditional sources of revenue. About 75% of our revenue comes from advertising, but the advertising pot is shrinking globally."

The SABC was engaging with the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) to review regulations that could enable it to have a "meaningful commercial conversation" with current and potential partners, Makhathini said.

In November, the public broadcaster asked Icasa to conduct an urgent public review of regulations that allow pay-TV operators to carry its television channels free of charge.

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