After a Metro FM journalist was forced to cancel a live political discussion on the ANC's Mangaung conference last night, the SABC board must show that it is serious about rebuilding the SABC into a credible public broadcaster by removing Acting Chief Operating Office Hlaudi Motsoeneng from his news oversight role.
While, at this stage, there is no confirmation that he had a direct hand in pulling the Metro FM show at the last minute, he bears the responsibility for the news operation and its current trend of nurse-maiding the reputation of President Jacob Zuma and curbing robust discussion about the ANC's upcoming elective conference at Mangaung.
This suppressing of a diversity of views around political issues comes barely a fortnight after the SABC admitted that the blacklisting of political commentators in 2007 was not in line with its editorial policy and the SABC Charter set down in the Broadcasting Act, No. 4 of 1999. This admission prompted the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) to withdraw its long-standing charge against the SABC from a hearing the Institute brought before the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA).
Last night's action shows the cynicism with which the SABC made its undertaking last month as part of its settlement to get the FXI to withdraw its case. The SABC vowed to "enforce compliance with its editorial policies and Code of Conduct for broadcasters, its licence conditions and the charter".
One of the key elements of the Charter is that the SABC must: "Provide significant news and public affairs programming which meets the highest standards of journalism, as well as fair and unbiased coverage, impartiality, balance and independence from government, commercial and other interests."
In the two months since the board appointed Mr Motsoeneng to control news, television, radio and sport, his most obvious blunders have been the insistence that the terms 'Nkandlagate' and 'compound' not be used to describe President Zuma's luxurious rural enclave, and the banning of the Fish and Chip Company's television advert that featured the President.
The reasons he gives for banning the advert show that Mr Motsoeneng does not understand the basic difference between advertising and editorial, and demonstrate clearly that he does not have the qualities to lead a multi-billion rand enterprise.
I will today write to Board Chairperson Dr Ben Ngubane to request that Mr Motsoeneng be relieved of his responsibilities regarding the governing of SABC programming content.
I will also ask ICASA to investigate whether the SABC has once again contravened its licence conditions and Charter obligations in its current news programming across all channels.
Marian Shinn, Shadow Minister of Communications