Johannesburg - The SABC cancelled its radio interview with three independent political journalists because “it was wrong” for the presenter to have the talk show without inviting the ANC. And the SABC needed to “manage the risk before it happened”.
The SABC’s acting chief operations officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, was blunt on Wednesday when the board tried to douse the fury around the public broadcaster’s editorial independence.
This is after the SABC on Tuesday canned its evening talk show on the media’s coverage of the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung.
Motsoeneng went on the offensive on Wednesday, saying the show - hosted by Metro FM’s Sakina Kamwendo - had breached the SABC’s editorial independence policy by excluding the ANC from the panel of commentators.
“Proper channels were not followed that support the SABC’s editorial policy… There had to be someone from the ANC to present their views,” Motsoeneng said, addressing journalists at the SABC’s headquarters in Auckland Park.
He was flanked by group radio executive Leslie Ntloko.
The SABC has been dogged by allegations of a ban on particular analysts seen to be critical of the ANC and its leaders since the tenure of Snuki Zikalala, who was the then head of news and current affairs.
Pressed by the media on why he thought it was necessary to invite the ANC when the topic had been the media’s coverage of the elective conference, Motsoeneng gave incoherent answers. At times, he contradicted himself.
“For us, it wasn’t about the ANC. We want to protect every citizen of this country… We are correcting behaviour that is wrong… A decision has been taken. We mean business at the SABC. It is the leadership at its best,” he rambled.
Asked if his explanation meant the SABC would not have any debate around the ANC’s conference without the ruling party’s presence, Motsoeneng said: “It’s not about the ANC, it’s about principles. Yes, the ANC must be part.”
He added that the calling off of the show had been a decision taken in the public interest, and it was part of the SABC’s mandate to inform and educate the public.
He denied that the SABC’s editorial independence was being compromised for political expediency.
“We will never allow any politician to dictate what happens at the SABC.”
The Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) said the SABC’s canning of the show demonstrated that the public broadcaster was pandering to the ruling party.The SABC’s reasons for “blocking” the journalists were “feeble and unconvincing” and confirmed that the board was being “overprotective of their [ANC] masters”.
“They are suggesting that the ANC must be a participant in every discussion around Mangaung, and that is not practical or necessary,” said FXI chairman Anton Harber.
FXI had in 2009 taken the Independent Communications Authority of SA to court after the regulatory body dismissed its complaint against the SABC’s alleged violation of the Broadcasting Act. FXI had claimed, among others, that the SABC was not providing fair and unbiased news and current affairs shows.
Harber said that if allegations were made about the ANC, then the presenter could easily have contacted the ANC telephonically to get their view during or after the talk show.
“They are being overprotective of their masters… They are hiding behind a fake sense of ethics, a false sense of fairness and balance.
“Their behaviour was an ethical sham,” said Harber, adding that it appeared that the SABC had “learnt little from the ‘blacklisting’ scandal”.
The three muzzled journalists also raised questions about the broadcaster’s partiality. Sunday Times political editor Sthembiso Msomi said the canning of the show was shocking and did not make sense.
“We were not there to discuss the SABC, the ANC or anything directly political. It was [to be a debate about] the media coverage around Mangaung,” said Msomi, who was to be a guest alongside Business Day political editor Sam Mkokeli and Andrew England, the Financial Mail’s South African bureau chief.
Strato Copteros, a media law and ethics lecturer at Rhodes University’s School of Journalism and Media Studies, expressed dismay at the SABC’s decision to pull the plug on the commentators.
He believed there was now a code of conduct not to blacklist commentators.
“If that is not the case, then we have returned to the tragic reality of the public broadcaster becoming the state broadcaster again,” he said.
Veteran editor Mathatha Tsedu described the SABC’s decision as “nonsensical”.
“It’s impractical and unnecessary. The issue was not the debate on Mangaung, but the media coverage of Mangaung. For that you don’t need the ANC [to be part of the debate].
“The decision is not based on any editorial decision. It’s political,” Tsedu said.
The SABC’s reasons for “blocking” the journalists were “feeble and unconvincing” and confirmed that the board was being “overprotective of their [ANC] masters”.
FXI had in 2009 taken the Independent Communications Authority of SA to court after the regulatory body dismissed its complaint against the SABC’s alleged violation of the Broadc ewaasting Act. FXI had claimed, among others, that the SABC was not providing fair and unbiased news and current affairs shows.
“They are being overprotective of their masters... They are hiding behind a fake sense of ethics, a false sense of fairness and balance.