While the SABC welcomed a ruling by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) to uphold the banning of elections adverts by the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the affected political parties have promised to take action, in different ways.
The EFF is marching on the SABC today after rejecting Icasa’s decision as “inconsistent with the law and in violation of freedom of speech”.
“It cannot be that a campaign message ‘to destroy etolls physically’, which has spread like wildfire on social media networks, billboards as well as reaching more than 100 000 viewership on YouTube and did not cause any violence could suddenly do so simply by being shown on SABC,” EFF national spokesman, Mbuyiseni Quintin Ndlozi.
The DA, having at first beaten the SABC into retreat, had its ad scuppered after the South African Police Service brought a case against the ad, saying it provoked violence against the police. Now it is launching a high court challenge to have the decision overturned.
“It is clear their decision is nothing but an attempt to disrupt the DA’s election campaign to protect the ANC,” said DA leader, Helen Zille.“The rise in police brutality is not news to South Africans. We have been exposed to the regular images of police brutality, images far worse than anything depicted in the Ayisafani commericial.”
Zille referred to footage seen by South Africans of miners being murdered by police at Marikana, of Andries Tatane being beaten to death by police (footage first aired by the SABC itself) and “police violence against ordinary citizens, most recently in Bekkersdal where rubber bullets were fired on unarmed residents at close range”.
The SABC, however, stands by its claims. Spokesman Kaizer Kgonyago said in a statement the ads were “in contravention of some of Icasa’s Regulations on Party Election Broadcasts (PEB)”.
He said the EFF ad was rejected after itreferred a complaint to the CCC of Icasa on the basis that the SABC refused to broadcast a PEB submitted by it in contravention of the Regulations on Party Election Broadcasts and therefore acted unlawfully.
“ The reasons given by the SABC for rejecting the PEB was that the the PEB fell foul of regulation 4(12)(b) of the Regulations on Party Election Broadcasts, in that, the advert contained words which were likely to provoke or incite unlawful, illegal or criminal acts. The SABC, in terms of the regulations, gave the EFF the opportunity to remove the offending words from the PEB, the EFF refused to do so but instead elected to refer a complaint to the CCC,” he said.
Controversial acting COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng said he was “happy” the SABC’s decisions were “deemed correct by the Broadcasting Regulator. These decisions nullify the allegations made that the SABC was not partial in its decisionmaking and was not compelled by external parties. This is also an indication that the SABC upholds it editorial independence and editorial policies,” he said.
The EFF disagreed. “ICASA by its ruling has confirmed that it is working together with all undemocratic interest groups that imposed eTolls on the people of Gauteng. These interest groups do not want eTolls to be on top of the agenda for the elections out of fear of costing the ANC votes,” Ndlozi said.
Civil society activist groups SOS Coalition and the Right 2 Know campaign said the credibility of Icasa and the SABC had been undermined by the decisions. More than this, the footage -as the EFF pointed out – is already in the public domain.
“We believe that the SABC and Icasa should uphold and actively promote the Constitutional principles of freedom of expression and access to information particularly during election periods to ensure informed citizens,” the NGOs said in a statement. “We believe that the reasons put forward by the SABC’s lawyers and upheld by Icasa to ban the Democratic Alliance’s election advert showing a policeman firing a rubber bullet at an unarmed woman fundamentally undermine these principles. SOS and R2K hope that reason will prevail and that these arguments will be overturned in court.”
It said although the case against the EFF was less clear due to the party’s statement that e-tolls should be “physically” removed, Icasa and the SABC had “erred on the side of censorship”.
The bodies also called for a review of the laws governing political advertising, saying they were “over broad” and “constitutionally problematic”, as the constitutional test is incitement to imminent violence, not “words which were likely to provoke or incite unlawful, illegal or criminal acts”.
“This is over-broad, andcreatesthe space for the banning of robust but nonetheless important adverts such as the EFF’s. SOS and R2K believe that Icasa’s conservative interpretation of the election regulations sets a worrying precedent for all future decisions around party political advertising. We believe that both ICASA and the SABC must be guided by the Constitutional limitations to freedom of expression that include incitement to imminent violence or hate speech,” the SOS said.
Zille said the DA would not allow freedom of speech to be “trampled on by bodies like Icasa who should be acting independently to protect freedom of speech. “It is unfortunate that this matter must now go to the courts for review but it is a necessary step to protect freedom speech, constitutionalism and free elections in South Africa,” she said.
In the meantime, the party launched a new advert on Sunday.
“This advert tells the real story of how the DA is growing in South Africa, and why the ANC is so worried about us in this election,” said Zille.
“The DA is growing in every community across the country. We are winning new supporters and voters, and thousands of new activists are volunteering for us in every town and village across South Africa.”
Watch the DA ad here:
Watch the EFF ad here:
IMAGE: ANN7 reporter live outside SABC