“The unavoidable impression we are left with is that Icasa is trying to deliberately delay dealing with this complaint so that the DA’s election adverts are kept off the air for as long as possible. This is clearly prejudicial to the DA’s election efforts, and only serves to advantage the ANC.” Democratic Alliance media release 15/4/2014
“One surprising element is that SABC editors are silent. This was described as an ‘editorial decision’, though it appears to have been made by the chief operating officer. Where are the editors?” Anton Harber after the SABC acknowledged that it had pulled ‘Ayisafani’ television and radio advertisements because they were critical of President Jacob Zuma.
Last night’s victory for the Democratic Alliance against the SABC in the Icasa hearing on the ‘Ayisafani’ advertisement marked the fourth time that eNCA had broadcast something that the state broadcaster had sought to keep from public attention.
As I pointed out in a previous article on this website – The horse has bolted – the SABC and Project Spear – the public (state) broadcaster has repeatedly and dishonestly wasted taxpayers’ money to keep from the people of this country news about government corruption, wasteful expenditure and ineptitude.
In June 2006 the SABC canned Thabo Mbeki:Unauthorised, a documentary it had commissioned Redi Direko and Ben Cashdan to produce. They did this because it was what not what they wanted and they wanted an ANC propaganda film that eulogised Mbeki. A year later eNCA bought the documentary -– which was critical of Mbeki – and broadcast it. Strike 1 for eNCA.
In November 2009 eNCA broadcast The Price of Denial, a documentary commissioned and then canned by the SABC. It made the irrefutable point that by delaying the introduction of retrovirals to state hospitals – even when the drugs were offered free by foreign countries and institutions – President Mbeki was directly responsible for more than 300 000 people, mainly black and poor, dying lingering deaths of intense suffering. Strike 2 for eNCA.
The third strike has to be The Big Debate debacle. Originally screened on the SABC, the current affairs talk show fell foul of Motsoeneng, whose only explaination was it was “incorrectly commissioned” and was canned without notice late last year. The popular show was picked up by eNCA w
The fourth strike was the DA advertisement ‘Ayisafani’, which the broadcaster unsuccessfully tried to ban last week but which eNCA broadcast without demur from the time it was received.
As the SABC’s own commissioned research into viewer attitudes – Project Kindle – has shown, South Africans are not fooled by the SABC’s propaganda and the nation will thus be not surprised at the latest censorship.
What was disturbing however was the way in which Icasa did its best to support the SABC’s attempts to keep the ‘Ayisafani’ advertisement off the air. It thus demonstrated that it is undeniably part of the ANC’s propaganda team.
The attempt in the past week by Icasa to evade its legal obligations so as to protect the enormously influential Auckland Park mouthpiece of African National Congress was both predictable and not without precedent.
On Saturday 12 April the DA approached Icasa about the decision by the SABC’s new acting CEO, Tian Olivier backed by ANC stalwarts like Motsoeneng and an SABC board filled entirely by ANC deployed cadres to ban the DA’s television and radio advertisements.
Icasa’s desperate attempts to delay responding to the DA complaint verged on the comical.
Its rules stipulate that it has to hear and decide on a complaint within 48 hours.
It clearly had no intention of meeting this deadline and on Monday ICASA wrote to the DA requesting that oral submissions be heard at 09h30 on the following day
Step two in the delaying process was to contact the DA late in the afternoon to say that it was unable to raise a quorum for the next morning’s meeting.
Icasa’s website says that ‘A quorum for a hearing of the CCC (Complaints and Compliance Committee) is the majority of the members in office at the time and where the Chairman is unable to preside, the Council appoints a duly qualified person, who may also be one of the members of the CCC, to chair the hearing.”
Judging by Icasa’s protestations of being unable to raise a quorum may one assume that not only did the CCC take an early Easter break but that they had also decided to spend it abroad?
By this time DA patience was justifiably running thin with the politically-motivated machinations to keep the advertisement off the air for as long as possible at the SABC – although it could nothing about the fact that eNCA was flighting the advertisement constantly.
“We replied that we would very reluctantly accede to this further delay, but only on condition that Icasa could offer us a commitment that they would reach a decision by close of business on Thursday afternoon,” Zille said.
When Icasa said that it could give no such assurance – i.e. that in five days it was unable to identify enough suitable people for a meeting and get them to Johannesburg – the DA said it would seek an urgent interdict compelling the tax-payer funded organisation to follow its own rules.
At noon on Tuesday 15 April the Democratic Alliance announced that it would seek the intervention of the South Gauteng High Court to force the alleged communications watchdog to act on its complaint against the Luthuli House-controlled broadcaster.
Realising that its bluff had been called but very happy that it had delayed the broadcasting of the advertisement for several days and had thus fulfilled its brief, Icasa agreed to a meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 15.
Delay, delay, delay
The comedy continued but with the desired result for the ANC, the SABC and Icasa – delay, delay, delay.
As broadcasting writer Thinus Ferreira reported on his website, the SABC could not explain at the hearing why it had seen fit to broadcast the advertisement several times before banning it and whether all advertisements were vetted in the same way that the DA advertisement was, so the hearing was postponed until the following evening.
At the hearing on Wednesday night the cynical ANC/SABC/Icasa charade collapsed and the state broadcaster was forced into the same humiliating retraction that it had to make when it deliberately and repeatedly lied about its failure to broadcast the booing on 9 August 2005 of Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka 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 shot by freelance cameraman, Sanjay Singh. It alleged that Singh had not filmed the booing but when eTV exposed the blatant lie showing Singh filming the booing, the then SABC spokesman, Paul Setsetse, resigned. This however is the Zuma era and nobody will be fired for this mortifying debacle because shame is an alien concept at the ANC’s Auckland Park branch.)
As J Brooks Spector pointed out in a Daily Maverick article, this was a significant victory for media freedom in South Africa.
(A useful background study on the failure of Icasa to monitor and regulate the SABC’s abuses is the MA thesis of Wits University student, Pronolo Govenden, which was submitted in 2009: “Toothless regulator?” A critical analysis of ICASA’s regulation of the SABC so that it functions as a public service broadcaster. )
This was the second time Icasa had faced a court threat because, in deference to the ANC, it was being a lapdog rather than a watchdog.
The previous occasion had its origins in the report by the Sisulu/Marcus Commission of Inquiry into allegations that the SABC head of news, Snuki Zikalala had, in 2006, instructed news room personnel to blacklist commentators perceived by him to be critical of his political patron, President Thabo Mbakei.
When the Commission found that Zikalala had been in breach of the SABC’s code of ethical news reporting on eight occasions, the then SABC board, led by ANC deployed cadres like Christine Qunta, did nothing – indeed, according to board member Alison Gilwald, it did not even bother to read the report. In response to this the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) asked ICASA to intervene but ICASA predictably said it did not have the authority to do so.
The FXI then took the matter on review and Judge Neels Claasen’s ruling in the South Gauteng High Court on 24 January 2011 was a damning indictment of the state broadcaster’s corrupt news policies and the way in which ICASA had teamed up with it in this regard. Icasa was also ordered to pay the FXI costs, including that of two counsel.
In the end the SABC’s most recent machinations merely succeeded in giving the ‘Ayisafani’ advertisement such inordinate publicity that it went viral on social media within 24 hours – a spectacular fail.