The Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) and the SABC have settled their case over the issue of the public broadcaster blacklisting certain political commentators critical of President Thabo Mbeki’s presidency. The FXI and the public broadcaster issued a joint statement on Monday on the terms of the settlement.
While the effort to conclude the drawn out saga, that started in 2007 when veteran broadcaster John Perlman blew the whistle on the practice instituted by then-head of news, Snuki Zikalala, have been welcomed in general, media commentators still believe there is a case for the SABC’s editorial policy to be thoroughly reviewed.
Media Monitoring Africa’s William Bird, in an email to the Save Our SABC (SOS) Coalition, said, “The settlement raises the crucial issue of the editorial policies. They are years overdue in terms of the legally required review. At our last meeting with the SABC as SOS they informed us that the public process was imminent. Months later and there has still not been any movement. It is critical that the SABC carries out the editorial policy review.’
Secretary general of the Media Workers’ Association of South Africa (MWASA), Tuwani Gumeni, said while the union “cautiously” welcomed the issuing of the joint statement, “It is with trepidation and apprehension that we cautiously note the commitment by the SABC to be more vigilant in enforcing compliance with standing guidelines and policies including its own. It is one thing to err in honest and genuine pursuit of compliance with standing procedures but quite another to display such voracious appetite for arrogant defence of wrongdoing.”
In the statement, the SABC acknowledged that the “conduct of its employees and former employees named in the FXI complaint, including its former head of News and Current Affairs division was not in line with:
1.1 The SABC’s editorial policies and Code of Conduct for Broadcasters;
1.2 The provisions of schedule C of its licence conditions in respect of News and Current affairs;
1.3 The SABC charter as contained in section 6 of the Broadcasting Act 4 of 1999 (‘the charter’).”
As a result of this acknowledgement, the FXI withdrew its complaint against the SABC, saying
“this settles fully and finally the FXI’s complaint against the SABC”.
It said as a consequence, the SABC has adopted Guidelines on the use of commentators, experts and analysts by SABC News. In these guidelines the SABC commits to:
· Monitoring and enforcing compliance with the guidelines, and reviewing them from time to time to ensure that they remain appropriate to the broadcasting environment in which it operates.
· Monitoring and enforcing compliance with its editorial policies and Code of Conduct for broadcasters, its licence conditions and the charter.
“Both parties are pleased that the matter has finally been resolved. We remain committed to having a public broadcaster which will actively ensure the availability of social and political views on its airways,” they said.
MWASA said while the statement could mark the end of a highly regrettable episode and tragic chapter in the history of the SABC, “There was and could never be any justification under a democratic dispensation where the SABC could allow itself and its staff to deliberately undermine, with such impunity, any founding legislation, ethical codes and practice standards upheld by its peers”.
Gumeni said the blacklisting scandal inflicted “collateral damage” on the credibility, trust-value and reliability of the SABC as a public broadcaster on whose news and current-affairs broadcasts millions of South Africans exclusively depend”.
He slammed the “compulsive tendency towards censorship” which, he said, was “not taking place in a vacuous space devoid of oversight structures, accepted industry standards, institutional policies, regulations or norms and practices”.
Gumeni had some harsh words for Icasa, which, he said, should have provided leadership in the case. “In fact we regret that ICASA’s reluctance to provide leadership and exercise its role in this matter and others with regard to the SABC over such a protracted period has largely escaped scrutiny and condemnation. It had to take a court order to get ICASA moving on this matter,” Gumeni said.