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Stella, Hands Off our regulator

The SOS Coalition is seriously concerned by media reports that Minister of Communications, Ms Stella Nadabeni-Abrahams is threatening the independence of The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, (ICASA) by withholding the first tranche of annual funding to the regulator and insisting on it amending its Annual Performance Plan to remove references to 5G.

ICASA was established by the Independent Communication Authority of South Africa Amendment Act of 2000, to regulate both the telecommunications and broadcasting sectors in the public interest.

Furthermore, ICASA is a Chapter 9 institution (an institution which supports democracy) in terms of the South African Constitution. Section 192 of the Constitution requires Parliament to establish an independent regulator to regulate broadcasting in the public interest and to ensure fairness and a diversity of views broadly representing South African society.

The Constitutional Court has previously (and unanimously) ruled on the required levels of independence from the Executive branch of government for Chapter 9 institutions. These include administrative and final independence.

One way to undermine the independence of the regulator is to choke regulatory effectiveness by blocking access to funding, or by making funding conditional on acquiescence to ministerial demands.

Making the funding of the regulator contingent on the Minister’s approval of ICASA’s Annual Performance Plan – and in turn, making that approval contingent on ICASA’s making the necessary changes to its own plan in accordance with her wishes – are both undoubtedly an unconstitutional attack on the administrative and financial independence of ICASA.

The Minister’s actions are unconstitutional and not in the public interest.

These actions come barely two months after the Minister of Communications’ altercation with a journalist who was covering a protest at the ANC’s provincial manifesto launch in the Eastern Cape.

South Africa deserves a Communications minister who upholds the principles of freedom of expression and media freedom and who protects the independence of the public broadcaster and the independent regulator.

We call upon the Minister to not violate her constitutional obligation to protect the independence of ICASA and we welcome ICASA’s willingness to defend its constitutionally-mandated independence in the courts. While we have no doubt that the high court will find in ICASA’s favour, we trust that the Minister will come to her senses and stand down. Her high-handed approach to key institutions such as the SABC and ICASA is damaging her credibility and that of the President who appointed her.

About SOS:

The SOS Support Public Broadcasting Coalition is a civil society coalition that advocates for the presence of robust public broadcasting in the public interest to deepen our constitutional democracy.  The coalition represents trade unions, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), community media, independent film and TV production sector organisations; academics, freedom of expression activists and concerned individuals.