Johannesburg - “We are not going to change anything, you must forget!” This is how SABC strongman Hlaudi Motsoeneng greeted the Icasa ruling directing the public broadcaster to withdraw its ban on visuals of violent public protests.
The SABC remained defiant on Monday, saying it was prepared to go to the highest court in the land to defend its controversial editorial codes.
This after the Independent Communications Authority of SA ordered the public broadcaster to withdraw the censorship policy, and called on SABC board chairman Professor Mbulaheni Maguvhe to confirm in writing within seven days that the sanction had been complied with.
Failure to withdraw the censorship policy could result in Icasa cautioning, fining, and ultimately revoking the SABC’s broadcasting licence, Icasa acting chairman Rubben Mohlaloga told a media briefing in Joburg.
But the SABC’s defiant stance suggests the powers that be at the broadcaster are growing even more confident of high-level political backing. The SABC is now effectively in defiance of both the ruling party and the country's broadcast regulator.
On Monday, Communications Minister Faith Muthambi defied an ANC summons to attend a meeting with the party's subcommittee on communications to explain the mess at the SABC.
Her continued defiance of the party might bring the issue to a head.
The ANC was expected to call another media briefing to address the SABC crisis on Tuesday. This time, party secretary-general Gwede Mantashe was expected to address the media and try to assert the ANC's authority over the government it's meant to lead.
The complaint against the SABC was lodged by civil society organisations, including the SOS Coalition.
The organisations argued that the broadcaster's policy was in conflict with the Broadcasting Act. It was also in violation of freedoms of expression and to receive information or ideas, especially in the build-up to the local government elections on August 3.
Unperturbed, the SABC held its own media briefing after Icasa’s, where the corporation's management effectively said they would not comply with Icasa’s ruling.
“We are within the Broadcasting Act. We are within the regulations. The Icasa ruling, we are challenging that ruling,” said Motsoeneng.
They were prepared to go to the Constitutional Court to challenge the ruling, he said, stressing they were unapologetic about their stance on news censorship.
He mocked “clever people” who challenged the controversial policy, which he dismissed as one big “hullabaloo”.
Motsoeneng, whose leadership style has been described as dictatorial, said he didn't know why people wanted to dictate to the SABC how to run its newsrooms.
Board chairman Maguvhe said the controversial policy was both a “moral and conscious” decision they had taken.
Jackson Mthembu, chairman of the ANC subcommittee on communications, has said they were not happy with the expertise the SABC had at its highest level. “No wonder you get such decisions being made,” he said.
Maguvhe said the SABC would consult its legal team on the Icasa ruling, adding: “I still believe we were right. We did not impose a blanket ban on visuals.”
SOS Coalition national co-ordinator Sekoetlane Phamodi said they felt vindicated by the Icasa ruling.
However, Phamodi said he would not count on the SABC to comply with the order.
“The SABC is notorious for failing to comply with even high court judgments for that matter, never mind the rulings of a tribunal such as the regulators.
“Nevertheless, we will watch the space, and if the SABC still continues under Mr Motsoeneng’s unlawful instruction, as premised by the unlawfully revised editorial policies, we will definitely take the matter further up to a higher court if need be,” he said.
“We’ll perhaps even seek direct access to the Constitutional Court, because we are three weeks away from the local government elections, and the freeness and fairness of our elections this year is going to depend on the independence, credibility and stability of the SABC.
“It is the single largest mass communication medium in the country,” added Phamodi.