The decision to pull the SABC 2 show, the Big Debate, makes a mockery of the principle of freedom of expression, says activist organisation, the Right2Know Campaign (R2K).
Right2Know said it was “outraged” by the order, especially as the public broadcaster’s CEO, Lulama Mokhobo, recently held up The Big Debate at public meetings as a shining example of the SABC’s willingness to reflect a diverse range of attitudes and opinions.
“In protest at the continuing censorship and lack of editorial independence at the SABC, as well as the canning of the Big Debate, we are issuing a public call to protest for this Thursday 24 October 2013 from 12:00am-14:00pm outside the SABC in Auckland Park, Johannesburg,” R2K said in a statement.
SABC group head of communications, Kaizer Kganyago, defended the decision.
“The Big Debate, which is a current affairs programme, was incorrectly commissioned by SABC2 and in so doing, the editorial oversight, which is the responsibility of the newsroom, was compromised. This is all we are prepared to say about the matter.
“It is against the policies of the SABC to outsource news and current affairs. Editorial responsibility for all news and current affairs content is vested in the newsroom,” Kganyago said.
R2K said it “wholeheartedly” rejected the statement. “It is telling that the SABC suddenly discovered this so-called ‘lapse’ once the first season had ended, and the show had earned a reputation as a tough-talking debate where ministers went to be ‘sliced, diced and fried’.
“It would appear that the SABC wants to insource current affairs because the programme producers are too independently-minded for the broadcaster, and they have developed cold feet with a national election looming.”
City Press reported the order came from controversial chief operating officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, a man who has make sweeping editorial decisions in the past, including cancelling a Metro FM talk show as the ANC was not represented on the panel. He also said the SABC would broadcast 70% good news on the SABC’s news shows.
“We do not want skewed and biased sunshine journalism from our public broadcaster – we want real Media Monitoring Africa’s William Bird, in an email to the SOS Coalition, reiterated that, “This really is an extraordinary decision especially given how the GCEO spoke so warmly and positively about the show at the SOS AGM. She also referred to it again at the FXI conference”.
R2K said the show offered viewers “high quality programming and deep level debates on various current affairs pertinent to South Africa”.
Presenter Siki Mgabadeli took to Twitter in her outrage. Later she told the Mail&Guardian that the show was “funded by the Foundation for Human Rights, so it’s their money that has been spent. We’ll continue shooting. If we can’t get an answer from the SABC and if the show cannot be aired, then we will reconsider our position”.
And so it was. The Big Debate shot two episodes in Cape Town this weekend, inviting residents to be part of a studio audience on the subject ‘Can we provide Water and Sanitation to all South Africans?’ Studio guests included Johnny de Lange MP, chair of the parliamentary portfolio committee on water, Phumeza Mlungwana from the Social Justice Coalition and the controversial leader of the city’s ‘poo protestors’, Andile Lili.
The Big Debate also hosted a Youth Forum, asking, ‘Have political leaders failed our youth?’ Panellists included the ANC’s Marius Fransman, EFF’s Floyd Shivambu, Masizole Mnqasela from the DA, Moeketsi Mosola of Agang and Xolani Qubeka, from the Black Business Council.
Ironically, the Big Debate was cancelled a two days before South Africa commemorated media freedom on Saturday. Cabinet spokeswoman, Phumla Williams, referred to the apartheid government’s banning of three publications and 17 activist groups on 19 October 1977. She said, “South African media have been free from state and government control since the attainment of democracy. The role of media in society is imperative as it informs and empowers all members of society, and enhances democratic values”.
She said as the country moves towards celebrating 20 years of freedom, it was “important to reflect on its media diversity and greater accessibility, which encompass an assortment of voices reflective of our rainbow nation”.
Clearly not something the SABC and its COO believes in.