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TV, radio stations warned against giving political parties in government too much airtime

Picture: Leon Nicholas/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Picture: Leon Nicholas/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Published Oct 15, 2021


Johannesburg - The Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) has issued a stern warning to licensed TV and radio stations not to be duped by political parties in power ahead of next month’s local government elections.

The communications regulator this week issued standards and guidelines on how licensed broadcasters must conduct themselves in the period leading to the municipal polls on November 1.

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According to the standards and guidelines, radio and TV stations must recognise that government officials are in a position to use their incumbency to advance their political parties’ electoral prospects.

“During the election period, BSLs (broadcasting service licensees) should regard with particular caution any statement or action by an official of an incumbent party.

In particular, BSLs need to ensure that, during the election period, they do not afford the policies of incumbent parties’ or independent candidates’ greater legitimacy than they would afford those policies or actions if the party was not in government,” Icasa stated.

Last week, Independent Media reported that Icasa amended its Municipal Elections Party Elections Broadcasts and Political Advertisements Regulations to make provision for the allocation of slots to both political parties and independent candidates, among others.

The communications regulator omitted including the standards and guidelines, according to its chairperson Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng.

“The amendment, however, resulted in the omission of the standards and guidelines applicable for the broadcasting of the party election broadcasts,” said Modimoeng.

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He said the inclusion of the standards and guidelines will ensure that the broadcast of party election broadcasts takes place in a fair and transparent manner.

Icasa explained that the standards and guidelines are meant to outline a general approach that should be adopted by television and radio stations in their coverage of the municipal elections.

“Elections are an important public event and as such fall within the ambit of news and current affairs.

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“BSLs are encouraged, in the public interest, to provide a full, impartial and independent coverage of the elections,” the regulator stated.

Icasa also assured voters, viewers and listeners that it does not intervene in the news and programming operations of licensed broadcasters.

“BSLs’ role during elections does not differ from their normal journalistic role during non-election periods.

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“Normal ethical considerations will continue to apply.

“A distinguishing feature of the election period is the obligation to achieve equitable coverage of political parties or independent candidates without abdicating news value judgments,” the authority said.

Icasa has also advised broadcasters to take special care during the final 48 hours prior to November 1.

“There will be limited time for broadcasters to ensure that political parties’ or independent candidates’ right of reply is honoured during this period.

“Broadcasters should, therefore, ensure that parties are given time to reply, should this be necessary, within the same programme during this period,” the authority suggested.

Icasa urged broadcasters to afford reasonable opportunities for the discussion of conflicting views and must treat all political parties and all independent candidates equitably.

Political parties and independent candidates criticised on air are entitled to be given a reasonable opportunity to respond in the period within 48 hours before the start of voting.

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Political Bureau