“ … we are much heartened by (SABC) senior editorial staff members who have decided to fight back in the interest of protection of editorial independence and integrity. The SABC editorial management team took on their bosses at an election workshop last month where they sought to take back editorial control of their newsrooms from politicians. Among other things, the resolution they adopted says they reject direct or indirect interference by any political party in editorial decisions. The staff have also commendably become whistle-blowers by exposing the rot.” – City Press editorial 13/4/2014
On Sunday 13 April, the City Press front page headline read: Staff lash SABC for ‘taking sides’. Displaying enormous courage the editorial staff mutinied and confronted their tormentors – Hlaudi Motsoeneng, Jimi Matthews and Nyana Molete – the men who shamed their country and their profession in front of the world’s leading news agencies when the censored the booing of President Jacob Zuma at the Nelson Mandela memorial service on 10 December last year.
According to the City Press report, in a resounding vote of no confidence editorial staff accused news management of:
- Seeking to silence the voices of those represented by the EFF and other parties yet to be represented in parliament by refusing to give live coverage to their election manifestos;
- Manipulating video coverage to create the impression that opposition party meetings were poorly attended; and
- Issuing an instruction that service delivery protests were to be ignored from now on.
All this in a week when the Mail & Guardian revealed in a front page lead that SABC board chairperson Ellen Tshabalala had sought to intimidate news staff by claiming that their telephone calls were being monitored by National Intelligence Agency spies and the SABC banned a DA advertisement and is deliberately excluding the DA from important televised pre-election debates on issues such as land reform.
Too late for the City Press deadline was a press release from the IFP calling for a national campaign against the systemic violation by state broadcaster of the Broadcasting Act and its own code of ethical news gathering in the run up to the 7 May election.
It accused the SABC of reneging on an undertaking to cover a pre-election rally in Rustenberg and then blaming “car trouble” for the non-attendance.
“Mr Narend Singh MP, Chairperson of the NCC, said: “We have seen the SABC Chairperson Mrs Ellen Tshabalala openly campaign for the ANC. We have seen the Hlaudification of our news waves – Mr Hlaudi Motsoeneng, President Zuma’s ally, routinely ensures lengthy coverage for himself and his friend President Zuma.
“And just yesterday, we saw the removal of the DA’s advertisement from the SABC’s airwaves. It is therefore no surprise that the IFP was snubbed in Rustenburg, as thousands came out to show support for the Party.”
“The IFP was informed this morning that the SABC crew in the North West was on its way to the Party’s event.
“The SABC crew ended-up being ‘on their way’ to the event for three hours. Later we were informed that they had picked-up car trouble and would no longer attend.
“If this was an ANC event, the alleged car trouble, if any, would have been resolved speedily,” said Singh.
“This comes also amid weekend reports that SABC journalists were told to toe the line because the National Intelligence Agency was listening in on their calls.
“It is clear that fear, intimidation, propaganda and censorship are now part of daily life at the SABC.
“The SABC reaches the homes (via radio and television) of the vast majority of South Africans. It is a taxpayer-funded institution which is bound by its mandate, to serve all South Africans. A national election is only weeks away, and we should not allow the SABC yet again to pander, as it did in all previous elections, to the ruling party while snubbing opposition parties.”
The historical context is important here and it shows that the current blatant and brazen pro-ANC bias under senior news executives like Jimi Matthews is hardly without precedent.
Matthews returned to the SABC on 1 March 2011 having been ousted by Snuki Zikalala in June 2005. In the interim he had been employed by the stillborn Telkom News.
Two months after his return, on 11 May 2011, Media Monitoring Africa analysed the SABC 2 Morning Live programme just days before the local government election and found it to be blatantly biased in favour of the ANC. Its report said: “It can be concluded that an overall assessment of the programme, reveals bias, clearly favouring the ANC. This is due to the uncritical coverage, as well as the prominent and overwhelming airtime afforded to the ANC, to the virtual exclusion all other parties.”
Three days later and just three days before the local government elections the SABC devoted hours of live coverage to the ANC’s Siyanqoba Rally held at the FNB Stadium in Soweto but refused to give coverage to the rallies held by other parties that day. The DA’s James Selfe, in reaction to this blatant bias, said:
“The conduct of the public broadcaster during an election period is regulated by the provisions set out in the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act (IBAA). That Act states that the SABC is required to ‘treat all political parties equitably’ and, importantly, that ‘each broadcasting service should be consistent in its treatment of contesting parties and of conflicting views’.
“The Act contains these requirements because, to bias coverage in one direction or the other, would be to favour one political party over another and thus unduly influence the ability of each South African citizen to discern the choices available to them.
“The decision by the SABC to broadcast live for two hours the ANC’s final election rally, with three days to go before Election Day, while refusing to cover the Democratic Alliance in the same manner, is neither equitable nor consistent. It is in violation of the IBAA. It is to disproportionately promote the views of the ANC and thereby to give prominence to one agenda over others. A two hour live crossing is incomparable with a hard news story on a bulletin. In doing so, it is to promote one choice before South Africans over another which is both contrary to the SABC’s mandate and undemocratic.
“For two weeks prior to the Democratic Alliance’s final election rally, our party attempted to negotiate with the SABC for live coverage. At first the SABC gave us a verbal commitment that it would cover the event live. It then reneged on that undertaking. It would give no explanation for its decision, nor would it confirm or deny whether it was covering the ANC’s final event. Last night, it confirmed that it would indeed be covering the ANC live.
“Given the SABC’s choice, to cover one party live and not another and thereby to promote one choice over another, the DA must question the circumstances under which the SABC reneged on its initial decision. Was it called by Luthuli House? Further, why is it not prepared to offer an explanation to South Africans, as to why the public broadcaster has made this choice? These are the actions of an organization that lacks transparency and acts in a way that advances the interest of the governing party.”
It goes beyond that.
The fact that the ANC’s Siyanqoba Rally was covered live meant that during that period the SABC had to cancel income-generating advertisements. As Stephen Grootes pointed out at the time, Zuma’s speech started two hours and 18 minutes later than scheduled so the SABC quite happily kept the live broadcast going, adding a further two hours and eighteen minutes of propaganda time. Matthews must have been elated and Hlaudi Motsoeneng must have achieved ecclesiastical levels of ecstasy. The high-fives at Luthuli House can only be imagined.
Faced with the stench of Nkandla the ANC is calling for more good news coverage and more cover ups of ANC corruption and its consequences from SABC news imbongis like Matthews, Motsoeneng, Nyana Molete and the unspeakable Themba Mthembu (Google Max du Preez+Themba Mthembu). But it has gone far beyond that as the front page lead in the Mail & Guardian on 11 April revealed: ‘Big Brother is watching SABC – Journalists complain that board chairperson Zandile Tshabalala has warned that state spies are listening to their calls and that the broadcaster is a National Key Point.’
Such publicly-issued threats by board members simply did not occur prior 1992 when the ANC took control of what it promised would be a “transformed” SABC freed from the propaganda shackles of its past under the NNP.
However it must be acknowledged that the SABC’s propaganda techniques have been considerably refined over the years.
In February 2010 the Democratic Alliance notified the SABC well in advance that party leader Helen Zille would be holding a media conference at Soshanguve, north of Pretoria and its invitation was accepted. The SABC news teams duly arrived and set up their equipment. An hour before Zille was scheduled to speak the SABC TV news crew hastily dismantled their equipment and departed. The DA issued a media release: “Every other media outlet in the country was present at the launch to cover primarily the speech by DA Leader Helen Zille. Even SABC Radio was in attendance. It is indisputable that this event constituted significant news.
“The DA tried to contact four or five key individuals at the SABC and none of them were able or willing to provide an explanation for why the cameras were pulled.
“The public broadcaster’s refusal to provide any explanation for why it withdrew its cameras suggests that it has an ulterior motive, and not one that has to do with accurately, objectively and fairly reporting the news to the South African public.”
Predictably there has never been an explanation for this brazen news corruption but this was simple problem to solve. Consult your daily news diary which exists both in physical form and on your computer system, ascertain which news teams were assigned to the story, ask them who pulled them off the story and dismiss those responsible. It was never going to happen, was it?
Now Motsoeneng and Co have a much simpler system. Agree to cover the event as they did with the IFP rally in Rustenberg and then simply attribute the SABC’s non arrival to “car trouble.” For credibility it ranks up there with the schoolboy canard that, “The dog ate my homework”. However the SABC news management has no credibility and does not care. The Operation Kindle public survey commissioned by the SABC proves that its news coverage is not trusted by most South Africans but, as long as Luthuli House is happy, why worry? (This website approached Kaizer Kganyago, the SABC spokesman, with a list of questions about Project Kindle on 12 March 2014. With his normal contempt for those who pay his salary, he has not responded.)
I sincerely believe that the majority of people working in the SABC news department are honest and ethical and, as it is their individual reputations that are being tarnished’ they are, to their credit, now fighting back against people like Motsoeneng, Matthews, Molete and Mthembu as the City Press front page lead on 13 April revealed: “At their election workshop last month, editorial management team members adopted an extensive resolution that they presented to head of news, Jimi Matthews, in which they said they aimed to protect their editorial independence and integrity.
“The resolution states: ‘We reject direct or indirect interference by any political party in the editorial decisions of any part of the SABC news team.
“‘We will not allow commercial, political or personal considerations to influence editorial decisions. We therefore reject any undue attempts to influence editorial decisions’.”
Bizarrely Kganyago denies the City Press story saying that it was in fact the other way round – that it was a news management instruction to news room staff!
How, then, does he explain the following memo sent by the biggest trade union at the SABC, BEMAWU, on 9 April to the recently appointed acting chief executive, Tian Olivier?
“As you may or may not be aware on the 18 March 2014 at an SABC election workshop, news management passed a resolution , essentially rejecting direct or indirect interference by any political party in the editorial decisions of any part of the inter alia SABC news team. They have re rejected any other attempts to influence editorial decisions. They have indicated that Editors will always make decisions based on news values and not on political agendas.
“We are in support of this resolution and we will support and defend our members in respect of this decision. We are furthermore in support of free and fair reporting and the integrity of the public broadcaster news room.
“ What is however of great concern, is the inference drawn from this resolution that previously there was direct and indirect interference by political parties in the editorial decisions of the News Room, that commercial, political or personal considerations did influence editorial decisions. This needs to be investigated and the perpetrators should be brought to book as a matter of urgency.”
Kganyago seems permanently and happily ignorant of what is happening in the SABC news department – as his embarrassing interview with John Perlman on 21 June 2006 on Snuki Zikalala’s blacklisting of Thabo Mbeki critics proved.
The SABC news staff were saying to Matthews last month what John Perlman and his colleagues were saying to Snuki Zikalala eight years ago .“Not in our name! We are tired of you corruptly prostituting us as political pawns in your craven support of the ruling faction of the ANC.”
A cursory analysis of the main SABC TV news bulletin on 13 April revealed the extent of the bias which all opposition parties are protesting against. Not only did President Zuma inevitably lead the bulletin but that was not the only story featuring him. The SACP, which has never contested an election, was given the same airtime as the Democratic Alliance which will probably get in excess of 20% of the vote in the coming election. The sound on all the ANC stories was perfect but the upsound on Julius Malema was almost inaudible and completely inaudible when Helen Zille was featured.
Mere coincidence, Mr Motsoeneng?