South Africa / 22 August 2007, 10:38am / Siyabonga Mkhwanazi
SABC board deputy chairperson Christine Qunta has accused the commercial media of racism and blamed it for a concerted campaign to portray the public broadcaster in a negative light.
Qunta was the first of 37 candidates shortlisted for interviews for appointment to a new 12-member SABC board, which will take office at the beginning of 2008.
An outspoken lawyer and commentator, Qunta said she was interested in another four-year term as a board member, given that she wanted to continue to be part of the team that started implementing employment equity at the SABC.
Under tough questioning from MPs on the multiparty national assembly communications committee, she also said it was wrong to believe that the SABC was biased in favour of the ruling ANC or selective in its coverage of Zimbabwe.
Her response was prompted by questions from MPs about recent controversies at the SABC, including the blacklisting of certain commentators and multimillion-rand fraud allegations against SABC head of legal services Mafika Sihlali.
Qunta said it was not easy to manage the biggest news organisation in the country.
"It is a contested arena in the country. There is ideological expectation. The SABC is caught in the middle of that."
She accused the print media of writing negative stories about the public broadcaster.
"We don't deny there are negative things at the SABC. There is a concerted attempt to harm the image of the SABC by the commercial press."
In instances where there had been employees involved in corrupt activities, the board had taken action, she said.
Qunta referred to a case where white employees at the public broadcaster had apparently colluded with white people in the production industry by awarding tenders through fraudulent means to their companies.
Yet this report was never leaked to the print media, said Qunta.
"The commercial media has been biased against us from the beginning. I think there is a racial bias in the commercial media. There is a perception that black people are more corrupt than white people."
MPs raised concerns that since the current board took over, the SABC had been mired in controversy, which included the appointment of Snuki Zikalala as head of news against the wishes of then chief executive Peter Matlare.
Qunta defended his appointment, saying he had been the best candidate for the job and had brought in a wealth of experience and a strategic vision.
Zikalala had also set in motion a number of innovations, including the opening up of bureaus in Kinshasa, Nairobi, Brazil, Brussels and London, she said.
She also denied that when it came to local news, the SABC sang the ANC's praises.
"I am not a member of the ANC, but I do support the ANC's transformation agenda," Qunta said.