The SABC denies there was anything untoward in interrupting programming on Wednesday night to cross live to President Jacob Zuma delivering a speech to the Black Business Council.
The move outraged opposition political parties, with the Democratic Alliance’s national spokesman, Mmusi Maimane, saying the broadcast “amounts to nothing more than political abuse of the national broadcaster. This is unacceptable at any time, but particularly so just months before a national election”.
Maimane, in a statement, asked if opposition party leaders would be offered the same opportunity.
SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago dismissed Maimane’s question, saying Zuma was speaking as the president of the country, not of the African National Congress. “It’s unfair to bring politics into this,” he said. “It shouldn’t be done. This broadcast was planned a long time ago.” Kganyago said the president’s weekly diary was published on Mondays, giving the public broadcaster’s editorial team time to plan their press corp’s diaries around Zuma’s moves.
Asked if it was a regular practice to interrupt broadcasting to cover a speech, Kganyago said it “depends on the issue”. Asked what was newsworthy about Zuma’s Wednesday night speech, and who gave the order that it should be broadcast live, Kganyago said he wasn’t sure, and that coverage was “an editorial decision”.
“All newspapers and media organisation have a team that follows President Zuma. Why shouldn’t we too?” he asked.
Maimane is not convinced. “It is unclear why the speech was afforded live coverage. There was no new announcement in the speech, or indeed anything that would ordinarily be considered newsworthy. In fact, the President’s speech sounded much like an election speech – he used the opportunity to rattle off a list of supposed government achievements,” he said.
The Democratic Alliance is not convinced and believes Zuma needs all the support he can get in the run up to next year’s election.
“President Zuma faces a tough election – he is deeply unpopular, more South Africans are unemployed now than when he first took office, and there are many unanswered questions about his personal conduct and the riches he has accumulated in office. But the President is not entitled to abuse the public broadcaster to drum up support for his party,” Maimane said.
Kganyago dismissed the DA’s statement as a ploy to cause trouble in the lead up to elections. “We’ll be seeing a lot more of this as elections get closer,” he said. “We need to differentiate between what is party politics and giving time to the president of the country. Zuma is also the DA’s president.”
Maimane is insisting that SABC acting head of news, Jimi Matthews, explains on what basis the decision was made to cover this speech live;; why it could not be reported on in normal news bulletins and what particular announcement or newsworthy factor in the speech made it worth live coverage in prime time.