13 December 2012

South Africa: SABC Board Must Clarify Where They Stand On Political Clampdown

press release

The SABC chairperson Dr Ben Ngubane and each member of the SABC board must publicly confirm or deny their support for the clampdown on political expression at the public broadcaster led by Acting Chief Operating Officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

Failure to do so will indicate their individual and collective agreement with the climate of censorship and party political bias that seemingly permeates the current affairs and news broadcasting across all channels of the public broadcaster, in possible contravention of the SABC charter and the corporation's editorial policies.

The intensification of the SABC's interference with free journalistic expression and political commentary is threatening the freedom of the South Africa's press and by extension one of the core pillars of our democracy.

The latest in a long list of examples of the SABC silencing of potentially critical voices is the decision not to air an interview with cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro (aka Zapiro), known for his cutting criticism of both the ANC and President Jacob Zuma.

Since the beginning of December we have seen the cancellation of a Metro FM debate on the ANC Conference in Mangaung; the removal of senior political reporter Sophie Mokoena from the political desk without providing solid reasons; SAFM presenter Siki Mgabadeli being told to pull a slot in her show; increasing reports of current affairs producers and presenters receiving warnings if they are too negative of government and not sympathetic enough of President Zuma; and finally the decision to institute formal, centralised controls over talk shows that dealt with politics and governance.

The media is a powerful entity with a strong capacity to influence public perception.

Our public broadcaster seems intent on exercising this power, not in a manner which broadens perspective and inform South African citizens, but shields the government, and particularly the President, from criticism.

The DA is committed to a free media and a public broadcaster free from political interference. Fighting back against gatekeeping at the SABC I have, in the past fortnight:

• Supported the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA)'s proactive investigation into Metro FM debacle and written to it asking for the inclusion of allegations of political interference in terms of the content of SABC radio and television programmes and to give details of the scope of their investigation;

• Written to the chairperson of the SABC board to ask him to rescind the decision giving Mr Motsoeneng authority over news, television, radio and sport, and

• Requested the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Communications to call the entire SABC board to the committee to account for the December events and the corporation's handling of broadcasts in the run-up to the ANC's Mangaung conference.

The South African constitution guarantees the freedom of the press and other media. The SABC appears to have abandoned its core values of establishing a "society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights" and to "lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people".

The SABC board must promptly clarify whether it believes the current clampdown is consistent with the SABC charter, the corporation's editorial policies and the South African constitution. And, if not, state what action it is taking to rectify the situation.

Marian Shinn, Shadow Minister of Communications

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