SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng's decision to ban violence from the airwaves is not only manipulative of its viewers and listeners, but stupid, says Peter Davis.
The SABC’s extraordinary decision to ban violence from the airwaves is not only manipulative of its viewers and listeners, but stupid. And, if newspapers follow this idiotic lead, they will hasten their slow, but steady, circulation demise.
In the bad old days, the media was severely restricted by apartheid’s Nationalist government under its proclaimed “state of emergency” which tried to prevent the people from learning about the turmoil that society was undergoing at the time. That crazy government tried its darndest to manipulate the news, but failed because a few brave editors found ways to ignore the emergency regulations and provided the population with most of the news and views surrounding the violence that racked the country at the time.
And what little they decided was dangerous to print, they passed on to the international media who flighted it around the world causing inexorable pressure that eventually led to the capitulation of the regime.
But somehow, authorities never learn from history.
The SABC’s chief operations officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, has jumped head first into the editorial domain and issued instructions that societal violence, mostly against the ANC government’s failure to improve the lives of the people of this land through decent service delivery, will no longer be flighted on the airwaves.
Well, so bloody what. In these days of instant communications via computers and cellphones using the many social media platforms, nobody needs to listen to or view the SABC’s restricted offerings.
What’s more, far from dissuading the discontented from “pushing their agendas” (Motsoeneng’s words), the ban will promote further violence to attract the international media to their cause and everyone with a cellphone will be taking pictures and videos and posting them on Facebook or Twitter or other social media platforms.
There will be a riot of images and views flashing around the world almost instantly that will leave the misdirected SABC stunned by its own inadequacy.
Besides, in terms of the Broadcasting Act, as South Africa’s public broadcaster, the SABC has a responsibility to provide news and public affairs programming which meets the highest standards of journalism, in a fair, impartial and unbiased manner. Censoring service delivery protests is obviously not part of the deal.
Not that that means a jot to Minister of Communications, Faith Muthambi, who decided earlier this year to bestow upon the underqualified Motsoeneng the powers of an emperor in his own fiefdom, including total control of all the SABC’s programming and news content.
It seems neither the minister nor the SABC board has considered the international backlash that will surely follow this decision of censorship.
Besides the glee of international television which will have any rioting all to themselves, what serious investor will risk funds in a country in which they will have to resort to social media to find out what is going on?
Bottom line: The SABC is a mess. Despite its overwhelming control of the airwaves, it still manages to lose billions of rand and has to beg Parliament for more and more tax money to keep it on its misguided way.
What is now needed is action by serious professionals with a passion for its mandate as the public broadcaster to provide an excellent and unbiased service to all the people of this land - and do so profitably.
It needs a whole new charter to guide its employees and keep power-hungry politicians at a distance.
Will that happen? Fat chance. Unless, of course, listeners and viewers switch off and leave the SABC to broadcast into an unheard and unseen ether.
* Peter Davis is a former editor of the Daily News and the Sunday Tribune. He is now a DA councillor.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.