Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Three blind mice and a perfect media storm: How three people involved in the SABC mess should (have) know better. And clearly don't.

It's called EQ. For emotional intelligence. Or simply being able to think through the consequences of your (planned) actions and then being able to anticipate whether you want to do something (or not) -  based of course on the dynamic environment in which you find yourself. Like let say, media and broadcasting.

When it comes to people who this week displayed an arresting, unbelievable and utterly shocking lack of insight into their own behaviour, decisions and possible reaction of others to their actions as far as the South African broadcasting community is concerned, its definitely Ismail Vadi, chairperson of parliament's portfolio committee on communications, dr Ben Ngubane, chairperson of the SABC and Solly Mokoetle, group CEO of the SABC.

Are Ismail Vadi, dr Ben Ngubane and Solly Mokoetle in a socially cognitive sense, three very blind mice finding themselves in the perfect storm? The tempest they're in might have already existed and their actions are fuelling a fire they might not really be able to put out, but they definitely could have doused some of the flames. Instead, their actions speak of borderline ridiculous behaviour. You would think they would be able to anticipate what will happen .  . . and then do better.

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Blind mice number 1
Ismail Vadi, chairperson of parliament's portfolio committee on communications

What on earth was the parliament's portfolio committee for communications - lead by the normally level-headed Ismail Vadi - thinking when it was decided to have yesterday's meeting with the SABC board behind closed doors? There Ismail Vadi stood on Tuesday night on television news in the harsh glare of TV cameras, looking quite flustered. With a lot of debate surrounding the draconian clamp down by the government with its proposed Information Protection Bill, Ismail Vadi should have been able to figure that to have a closed meeting is the last thing to do. Here you have a story about a public media institution, in a sorry state of affairs, richly imbued with a drawn-out narrative of power players (good and bad), that is forced to come clean, within a zeitgeist of media feeling threatened about what they can and can't cover, and to top that, the setting is inside parliament – the democratic symbol of a free South Africa. Of course the press is/was looking for a cause célèbre to rail against . . . something they got by being handed it on a platter. It's stunning that neither Ismail Vadi nor the commitee he leads could foresee that this might have been a spark waiting to ignite an explosive tank of media anger. Which is what happened. And really. If anyone is serving on a commitee that deals with communications, how do you not know by now: if you want the press to pry, simply send out a notice saying something is off limits, closed to the public or the media (especially if its another media institution, or happening in camera.

Blind mice number 2
Dr Ben Ngubane, chairperson of the SABC board

The goodwill the South African television industry had towards dr Ben Ngubane disappeared as fast as the glare of the sun when you put on Felicia Mabuza-Suttle's sunglasses. Sadly most of it was because of dr Ben Ngubane's own doing (or actually his unwillingness to do certain things). When you've done something wrong – like flouting corporate governance rules like the SABC has and you make a unilateral appointment that it not really yours to make – you don’t just say sorry. You show it. Sadly dr Ben Ngubane still blames the SABC board and is villifying them (as in turn, to be fair,  they are him) instead of stepping back and asking himself what he is contributing to the ongoing leadership crisis within the SABC. Very clearly dr Ben Ngubane never watches Oprah. Truly great leaders realize when they need to step back or leave for the greater good of the institution or the group. Clearly not dr Ben Ngubane who would rather drag the SABC through an ongoing public embarrassement than resign. Like the general fighting a losing battle dr Ben Ngubane refuses to accept that however long his continued tenureship at the SABC might continue, there is now so much bad blood between him and the SABC board (the majority of which strongly disagrees with him, don't trust him and has no respect for him) that he will be severly handicapped in whatever legacy or changes he tries to affect at the SABC. It is sad that he is unable to accept that he has irreparable compromised himself as a leader of a public institution and that the best thing for the institution – indeed for South Africa – would be to step inside. It shows a lack of internal awareness in a sense. The position and title is more important than what is important for the people who are supposed to be served by holding that position.

Blind mice number 3
Solly Mokoetle, group CEO of the SABC

Whatever the real case might be, from the outside it seems as if the SABC's group CEO is blindly following orders. One man's orders to be precise: that of SABC chairperson dr Ben Ngubane. Solly Mokoetle has clearly not yet learnt that in the corporate world (hence the world corporate) its also about playing nice with others. The grown-up world is just like the kids' world in kindergarden. You need to share. You need to wash hands together. You need to laugh and help each other when you climb a tree. You either push others up from below, or you reach out with your hand to that other hand on the branch below and pull people up as you climb the tree together. There is a reason why people say there is strength in numbers. Solly Mokoetle has not only marginalized himself by (just) aligning himself with dr Ben Ngubane, he has cut off the possibility of making allies. Should dr Ben Ngubane go, there is a much higher percentage chance that Solly Mokoetle will be ousted as well. And even if dr Ben Ngubane stays, he might not be in a position anymore to save Solly who already indeed has been told by the SABC that he has to give reasons why he shouldn't be suspended. It really is just like kindergarden: If you have a lot of friends and took the time to make friends – even when you do naughty things – there is nobody who's going to run and tell the teacher. It seems as if Solly Mokoetle who was new to the SABC sandpit, didn't care to build bridges and tunnels with the SABC board when they all still had the chance to play together. Now that its going home time, its becoming painfully clear which kid is being left in the sandpit . . . all alone.