“Haffajee rightly calls for more investigative journalism. However, one must realise (as she undoubtedly does) that the undue expectations we have of print media (who are, let’s face it, principal targets of this latest legislative onslaught), are a result of a state broadcaster that has spectacularly failed us. SABC had a quarterly income of R2.7 billion yet somehow squandered it to record a R25 million loss. Think of an instance when SABC, the most resourced, multi-lingual medium (and the source of news for 80% of this country), reported a breaking news story in the last decade: there have been few, if any. This is highly unacceptable and more deserving of anger than the state of the print media in this country, which is by no means perfect but certainly vastly superior in quality and accountability to the broadcast media.’’
A response to stories untold– Vinayak Bhardwaj 27/11/2010
“The SABC’s constant promotion of the ANC on its evening television news bulletins and its constant suppression of any news inimical to its political masters is both illegal and illicit.
“It is illegal in terms of chapter three, section 10(d) of the Broadcasting Act of 1999, which obligates the SABC to ‘provide significant news and public affairs programming which meets the highest standards of journalism as well as fair and unbiased coverage, impartiality, balance and independence from government and other interests.’
It is illicit in terms of the SABC’s own code of news ethics, which compels it to report in a neutral and objective way.”
‘Déjà vu on SA Bootlicking Corporation on TV’ Rhoda Kadalie, Business Day 3/3/05
On Friday 7 December, South Africans awoke to a Mail & Guardian front page lead story, ‘The Kept Politician’, which effectively confirmed everything in Adriaan Basson’s recent best seller, ‘Zuma Exposed’.
The newspaper’s story was based on a 2006 KPMG forensic report into Jacob Zuma’s financial affairs which it claimed the National Prosecuting Authority had covered up and which cited Nelson Mandela as one of several benefactors of a man who for two decades has been living way beyond his means.
Another disturbing factor, as Stephen Mulholland was to later point out in a Sunday Times: Business Times column, “Our banks slip into a pit of corruption” (16/12/2012) was that the three banks cited in the KPMG report, Standard, ABSA and FNB were manifestly guilty of influence peddling, “… a crime in the US and other jurisdictions”.
In this context the reverberating ramifications of the Mail & Guardian exposé will continue to shake the foundations of our political and financial landscape for some time to come as Songezo Gibi of the Midrand Group was to point out in a follow-up article in the paper: “Schabir Shaik might have been sentenced to 15 years in a prison hospital for bending the rules with Zuma, but there have been absolutely no consequences for the banks or for the officials who broke the rules to accommodate him. Questions about what they expected in return for this special treatment have not been asked, but they should be. In effect they put the bank’s money at risk for an as yet undisclosed return on that risk. It is scandalous.” “Nkandla exposes corporate rot.”(14/12/2012.)
By any standards this is a major story and in a multi-party democracy – the USA, the UK, France, Holland or Germany – the KPMG report would have toppled governments and national television stations would have interrupted scheduled programmes to provide saturation coverage.
Comparing how e.tv (eNCA) and the SABC carried this and other contentious stories on their respective 7 pm English television news bulletins shows how the SABC regularly suppresses stories that are detrimental to the ANC – and this was one of them.
That night eNCA led with a follow-up on the Mail & Guardian story with context being provided by the station’s specialist court reporter, Karyn Maughan. The Democratic Alliance MP James Selfe was also interviewed.
As is routinely the case, the SABC3 also led with a Jacob Zuma story – that he had offered his condolences to the next of kin of those killed in the Air Force Dakota which crashed in the Drakensberg. (It is now standard practice for the SABC to turn any tragedy into a promotional vehicle for Zuma by making the introductory sentence not the fact that there has been a tragedy but that Zuma has offered his condolences to those bereaved by it.)
The second story on the SABC bulletin also featured Jacob Zuma – the fact that he had left for Tanzania to attend an SADC Extraordinary Summit on the situation in the DRC – but nowhere in the entire bulletin was there any reference to the KPMG forensic report scandal, a story so explosive that it immediately went viral.
What this makes clear is that the SABC misled the Freedom of Expression Institute and ICASA on 12 November when the corporation promised that it would strictly follow and implement its code of ethical news conduct and, in return for which, the FXI agreed to withdraw its complaint about the Zikalala-era blacklisting scandal. What compounds and exacerbates this concern is the latest example in a succession of recent SABC censorship scandals involving acting COO, Hlaudi Motsoeneng.
A second example: On 9 August 2005 members of the ANC Youth League, who were aggrieved because Jacob Zuma had been axed by President Thabo Mbeki, booed Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka off the stage at a Women’s Day rally in Utrecht, KZN.
The SABC televised the rally but deliberately censored the booing, even though it had the footage. Its repeated lies in this regard were subsequently exposed by e.tv which led, in turn, to the dismissal of SABC spokesman, Paul Setsetse.
Fast forward to 23 October this year and exactly the same scenario unfolds. This was the day when, for the first time, the Farlam Commission of Inquiry screened footage of how the 34 Marikana miners died. According to newspaper reports National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega was in a very good mood, laughing and joking with those around her. Then the bereaved relatives of those killed in the massacre – the SABC calls it a “tragedy” – exploded in outrage.
“…Phiyega stared straight ahead, ignoring a widow screaming at her for answers about her husband’s death,” the newspapers reported.
‘Why did they do this? Why did your policemen kill my husband? What did he do?’ the woman screamed at her.”
That night eNCA reported on this facet of the hearing in its lead story on its 7 pm bulletin.
The SABC clearly had a camera present because its story on the equivalent bulletin briefly showed the anguish of the bereaved women but it deliberately did not reflect the hostility Phiyega experienced. Censorship by omission and a sordid history of news bias repeating itself?
A third example: On 26 October, the Asset Forfeiture Unit obtained an order in the Northern Cape High Court to seize R24m in assets belonging to ANC MP Yolanda Botha. eNCA headlined the story but there was nothing that evening on the equivalent SABC TV News bulletin.
On 21 November an eNCA camera crew filmed Botha, John Block the ANC leader in the Northern Cape and ANC MEC Alvin Botes filing into the Kimberley Magistrates Court to face charges of fraud, corruption and money laundering but nothing was broadcast on the equivalent SABC TV news bulletin The corporation has a full time TV news team in Kimberley and could not have been unaware of this ongoing story of corruption in the province because it has been given constant coverage by the excellent local newspaper, the Diamond Fields Advertiser. Why then was nothing reflected that night on the SABC3 7pm TV news bulletin? Censorship by omission?
Prior to Polokwane in 2007, the ANC’s Zuma faction correctly complained that they were being kept off the air by President Thabo Mbeki’s acolytes at the SABC. Now the reverse is happening. South Africans were first alerted to this in June 2010 by newspaper columnist William Saunderson-Meyer who pointed out that when Mbeki revealed details of his newly-created organisation, the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute, in a speech at UNISA in Pretoria, there was no SABC coverage – this despite the fact that the corporation has a news office a 20-minute drive from UNISA.
On 11 July this year the Sunday Times reported that SABC reporters had been instructed not to report on Mbeki or do interviews with him. Then, on 13 September, enraged members of the biggest SABC union, BEMAWU, reported that they had been instructed not to give coverage to Zuma opponent, Julius Malema. The SABC countered this uncomfortable truth and the concomitant adverse publicity by filming the two in wide shot to diminish their size on screen and, where possible, by not using sound bites.
From the beginning of recorded sound, sound bites have inspired and guided us.
Think of Winston Churchill’s “We shall fight on the beaches” in the House of Commons on 4 June 1940, Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on 28 August 1963 and Ronald Reagan’s “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall” at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin on 12 June 1987.
In our own context, think of F W de Klerk’s “The time for negotiation has arrived.” at the opening of Parliament on 2 February, 1990 and Nelson Mandela’s “Free at last” on that momentous day, 2 May, 1994.
While not as historically important, a recent soundbite also reverberated across the country creating, in the words of a Barney Mthombothi editorial in the Financial Mail, a “firestorm”.
They were uttered on Friday 19 October, yet so significant was their impact that the Sunday Times saw fit to make them the subject of its front page lead three days later.
Here are those words: “I must state that I have prepared this lecture deeply troubled by a feeling of great unease that our beloved motherland is losing its sense of direction and that we are allowing ourselves to progress towards a costly disaster of protracted and endemic general crisis.
“I for one am not certain about where our country and nation will be tomorrow and what I should do in this regard to respond to what is obviously a dangerous and unacceptable situation of directionless and unguided national drift.”
The words resonated and clearly struck a chord with a rapt nation. They were part of a speech by former President Thabo Mbeki during an Oliver Tambo memorial lecture at Fort Hare University.
However, those who tuned in to the SABC3 English television news broadcast at 7pm that night never heard them. The story that, with a banner headline, dominated the front page of the Sunday Times three days later was, on this bulletin, relegated to the eleventh place on the running order – just before the sports section and after the first advertisement break. It was broadcast for just 43 seconds as a presenter voice-over and without an upsound from Mbeki or a later interview. Censorship by omission?
You can judge for yourself because the SABC has posted the above-mentioned video clip.
Thanks to the current ANC-aligned SABC news managers and the party’s deployed cadres on the board who support them, ethical probity in news gathering continues to be an alien concept at Auckland Park. The irony, however, seems lost on the ANC that, while it is an intrinsic part of and the underlying reason for the 24/7 news corruption at the state broadcaster, it relentlessly attacks the print media and bulldozes through parliament draconian pro-corruption secrecy legislation that was never even contemplated during the apartheid era.
In support of that contention I would like to close with this quote: “My argument is that the ANC is obsessed about the print media and its numerous uncoverings of corruption within its party ranks. These exposés destroy the image the ANC would like to portray of itself as the noble liberation movement. It summoned two outrageously undemocratic ‘solutions’ to deal with the ‘problem’. Under the guise of ‘development’, ‘transformation’, ‘rights to dignity’ and maybe even ‘the second transition’ there is something highly ideological and seriously political afoot: the desire for political control through curbs on access to information.” Glenda Daniels, ‘Fight for Democracy – The ANC and the Media in South Africa’ (Wits University Press, 2012)
Ed Herbst is a a prize-winning reporter, worked for the SABC television news for 28 years but left in 2005 without other employment in prospect because of the pervasive news and other corruption at all levels of the corporation.