Unions associated with the SABC have come out in strong condemnation of what they believe is the censoring of SABC news reports.
The Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers Union (BEMAWU) said it received reports to from several members that they have “been instructed to not report on ANY activities of the expelled ANC Youth League leader, Julius Malema”.
BEMAWU said the “instruction went as far as to say that even if he is assassinated, or he dies in any other manner, it should not be reported on any SABC platform until top management has instructed otherwise”. The union says the instruction came from Solly Phetoe and Mike Seluma and was conveyed to all news editors around the country and that a special meeting was called in some regions to inform all news editors of this instruction.
“BEMAWU regards this as a gross violation of the principles of journalism and also an attack on freedom of the press,” it said in a statement. “As a public broadcaster the SABC is duty bound to report news in a fair, unbiased and accurate manner, and without influence from top or any other management of the SABC. We have informed our members to not comply with this unlawful instruction and to report the news of the day without fear or prejudice and to judge what should go on air purely on the news value and principles of the editorial policy of the SABC.”
Tuwani Gumani, general secretary of the Media Workers Association of South Africa (MWASA) said the union “fully supports the stated commitment to protecting the independence of professional journalists working for the SABC”.
“The SABC newsroom has been a controversial workplace for many decades. A comprehensive and inclusive purposeful discussion on the concept of journalistic-independence and questions around appreciation of the fundamental rights to freedom of expression,freedom of association and the right to choose and practice a profession including intellectual property rights must be prioritised,” Gumani said in a statement.
“It is unacceptable that, both historically and even as we live, the SABC newsroom has efficiently stifled and smothered diversity of views and opinion where the dominant and preferred perception is that of an SABC that punts the ruling-party’s stance on most matters of national interest and concern.”
BEMAWU said the current actions of the SABC news chiefs reminded it “of the censoring of news by the apartheid government and total control of the public broadcaster by the ruling party”.
It said if SABC management “dared to touch any of our members ignoring this unlawful instruction, BEMAWU will defend our members and take the matter to the highest court” and called for an urgent investigation of this sorry state of affairs at the Public Broadcaster”.
However, the SABC disputes this version of events. In a statement issued on Friday, the broadcaster said it had “noted the several media reports on the alleged banning of Mr Julius Malema on SABC platforms. The corporation would like to set the record straight on this matter. It is untrue that the SABC News department has issued any instructions banning Julius Malema. What news management has appealed for, is for more responsible and in depth reporting on the issues.
“In a meeting on the 3 September 2012, with the political news team, Mr Jimi Matthews (acting group executive of news) appealed to his staff for a more nuanced reporting on the Marikana and related stories. His appeal was for context. He pointed out a number of angles that the mainstream media were not covering, that were worth pursuing. He encouraged the team to engage intellectually so as to get a better grip on the issues. He warned against lazy journalism and running with the herd.
“Mr Matthews stated: ‘I am very disappointed with the turn of events. Instead of debate, certain members of my staff ran off to other media houses claiming that I had banned Malema from the airwaves. Nothing can be further from the truth. I asked for responsible journalism and intellectual engagement.’ “The SABC hopes that this puts the matter to rest and reiterates that Mr Malema has not been banned.”
Nevertheless, MWASA said it believed the SABC newsroom has “lost qualified and competent personnel and with that as well as the highly-priced credibility and integrity. Any broadcaster with a chequered and dodgy record in terms of credibility and integrity cannot claim support from its audiences”.
MWASA will be picketing outside the SABC on Wednesday 19 September 2012. “Critical demands will include concerns spanning the entire value-chain beginning with the president, the ministry, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications, organisations such as ICASA and others, then the SABC Board and the depleted SABC Group Executive.”