Outside dictatorships and communist states, public broadcasters are supposed to be independent of political interference.
In Britain the head of the BBC has just resigned over the expanding scandal of allegations of sexual harassment by Jimmy Savile, a former employee, and suggestions of a cover-up.
Although not involved himself, the head took professional responsibility for the corporation’s handling of the matter and some shoddy journalism.
The SABC has for many years shown itself to be too malleable to political influence. The infamous intervention by PW Botha in objecting to and changing a news bulletin is well known.
The current scandal concerning Nkandlagate led to President Jacob Zuma’s spokesman Mac Maharaj objecting to some of the vocabulary used, notably the demeaning term “compound”. Since Maharaj is an unelected spokesman his utterances can be taken seriously or ignored.
However, Jimi Matthews, head of news at the SABC, almost immediately sent out a directive to all staff that only the word “residence” was to be used, and censoring the use of “compound”, “homestead”, “Nkandlagate”, “Zumaville” and the like.
This directive merely confirms the suspicion that the SABC is subject to His Master’s Voice.
l Geoff Hughes is professor emeritus, Wits University.