Today, at 10AM, the Right2Know Campaign together with allied organisations will be protesting outside SABC offices in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban to demand an end to censorship at the public broadcaster and the removal of COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng.
The SABC was transformed from propaganda machine of the apartheid state to become a public broadcaster with a mandate to service the information needs of the population in a democratic South Africa. In terms of its charter, the SABC is supposed to enjoy “freedom of expression and journalistic, creative and programming independence as enshrined in the Constitution.” Yet under the heavy-handed and incompetent management of Hlaudi Motsoeneng we have seen worsening censorship. Motsoeneng has been given sweeping powers to make editorial decisions – powers that he should not have – and he is a danger to the public broadcaster’s integrity and independence.
The rot began long before Motsoeneng’s rule, but in recent months we have witnessed some of the most egregious violations of the Broadcasting Act and Charter. Critical commentators and journalists have been censored or purged, and shows and documentaries perceived to be embarrassing to the ruling elite have been canned. We have become used to the doctoring of visuals – in Parliament, for instance – to save the government’s face, but in a recent shocking move the SABC has decided to ban visuals of protests that may include violence.
The ban on protest coverage is reminiscent of the SABC when it was a mouthpiece of the Afrikaner Nationalist government and sought to plaster over the ugly realities of apartheid and censor the people’s struggle . The reality nowadays is that South Africa is a protest hot spot and taking to the streets is often the only way in which marginalised communities feel they can force an increasingly aloof and unaccountable government to respond. Violence and destruction often accompany these protests, but it is not the role of a public broadcaster to gloss over events and try to fool audiences into believing that everything is rosy.
Rather, the SABC should provide contextualised coverage of protests in compliance with its charter, which demands “a high standard of accuracy, fairness and impartiality in news and programmes that deal with matters of public interest.” The banning of protest coverage flies in the face of this. It is a political decision to protect those in power from the uncomfortable truth. It must be rejected along with all other attempts by SABC management to turn the public broadcaster into the PR division of Luthuli House.
The SOS Coalition, Media Monitoring Africa and Freedom of Expression Institute have lodged a complaint with the Complaints Compliance Committee of ICASA over the protest ban decision. A petition in support of their efforts can be found here: https://awethu.amandla.mobi/petitions/sabc-must-stop-censoring-news . We urge the public to support this initiative and join in the protests outside SABC offices in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.
The SABC is being turned into a propaganda machine for the state and ruling party and in recent times we have seen numerous attempts to censor content that embarrasses or is critical of the ruling elite. Programmes and documentaries like Miners Shot Down, Project Spear, The Editors and On The Record have been canned because of their critical content. Among the most alarming recent developments is the decision to ban coverage of violent protest. We will not allow the SABC to whitewash reality and censor footage to protect the powerful. Censorship and sunshine journalism must stop!
WITHDRAW THE REVISED EDITORIAL POLICY!
After years of delays, the SABC has quietly finalised and implemented a new editorial policy, but it has failed to properly undertake the public consultation process that it laid out and is obliged to follow through on. The views of the public clearly do not matter to the public broadcaster’s management.
The SABC is a critical institution that has by far the widest reach of any media organisation in the country. Millions of South Africans depend on it for their information needs and it therefore must be accountable to the public. As a public broadcaster, the SABC has a duty to inform the public, uphold free expression and deliver news that is accurate, fair and impartial and programming that deals with matters of public interest.
It is a basic principle of ethical media practice that management should not be allowed to interfere in editorial. But the new policy says that content should be referred upwards for approval. It gives Hlaudi sweeping powers to interfere with the work of editors and the final say on any editorial decision. The new policy must be withdrawn and redrafted after a full and meaningful public participatory process!
HLAUDI MUST GO!
SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng is unfit for the job. The Public Protector found in 2014 that he lied about his qualifications; that he purged senior staff; that he ignored regulations by increasing his salary from R1.5 million to R2.4 million and he hiked the salaries of other staff, inflating the salary bill by R29 million at the struggling broadcaster. Last year, the High Court ruled that his permanent appointment as COO was ‘unlawful and irrational’.
And yet, Hlaudi remains in his seat, steering the SABC from one crisis to another. Why? Because he is blindly loyal to those above, like Minister Faith Muthambi, who keep him in power. We do not want political lackeys running this crucial public institution. Hlaudi shows no respect for the ideal of editorial independence, he views good journalists and the profession of journalism with contempt, and his actions are consistently in violation of the Broadcasting Act and SABC Charter. Hlaudi must go! The SABC can expect further mass action until our demands are met.