OPINION: “Earlier the SABC’s head of news Jimi Matthews said he is not going to allow the Democratic Alliance to control the platform on which it is broadcast.” Thinus Ferreira, High Court orders the SABC to give live coverage on SABC2 of the Democratic Alliance federal congress this weekend. 9/5/2015
“#DACongress is in the public interest‚ they are the second biggest party in our country it’s only a fool that will not know that! #SABC.
“#DACongress. The failure to cover the #DACongress by #SABC on the free to air channel‚ is so unfortunate‚ stupid and nothing to do with ANC”.
Jackson Mthembu, “#DACongress. The failure to cover the #DACongress by #SABC on the free to air channel‚ is so unfortunate‚ stupid and nothing to do with ANC”. 8/5/2015
Had it not been for the regime change which occurred at Polokwane in December 2007 then Snuki Zikalala would still be running the news division at the SABC. Professor Jane Duncan, quoted in a Daily Maverick article, said: “For me Polokwane was what changed the SABC. After Polokwane this situation at the SABC opened like a cracked nut.” After Polokwane, the Jacob Zuma faction simply replaced Zikalala with Hlaudi Motsoeneng and, as the Mail & Guardian pointed out in an editorial, the situation is worse now than it was in 2007. Motsoeneng remains defiantly at work despite two High Court rulings ordering his suspension. He has vowed to fight the matter all the Constitutional Court and it remains to be seen whether it will agree with previous court decisions and find that he, like Menzi Simelane, is unfit for office.
This article looks at last week’s urgent application by the Democratic Alliance. The court found for the applicant. The SABC was thus forced, against its will, to make the proceedings at the DA congress in Port Elizabeth accessible to the poorest of the poor by giving the congress live coverage on its free-to-air SABC2 channel instead of on DStv which they could not afford.
When the SABC’s head of news, Jimi Matthews, unequivocally stated that he would ensure that by restricting the Democratic Alliance’s watershed Port Elizabeth congress to DStv it could not be viewed by the urban and rural poor, little did he realise that he, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, Kaizer Kganyago and the rest would shortly suffer four savage rebukes:
- Former ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu described the SABC’s decision as “stupid” and, by association, damaging to the African National Congress and South Africa’s reputation as a country which values media freedom and the people’s R2K. “The DA congress is in the public interest. They are the second biggest party in our country. It’s only a fool that will not know that!
“The more we ANC members are not open about SABC blunders‚ the more we are seen to be working with them,” Mthembu said.
Last night, on his eNCA programme, The Justice Factor, Justice Malala praised Mthembu’s principled stand and made him his ‘Winner of the Week’.
- Two rebukes came from Judge Zeenat Carelse who heard the Democratic Alliance’s urgent application. We were alerted to the first by the tweets from Rapport’s Jacques Steenkamp who was covering the story. “Judge Carelse points out that even the smallest political parties in Britain received equal airtime on BBC, so why not here?” The second implicit rebuke of Matthews & Co came when the judge, to emphasise the point she had made earlier, awarded costs against the SABC.
- The third rebuke, effectively, came from the SABC’s lawyer when, according to the SABC’s own report on its own website: “The SABC conceded before the court that it had no case, by agreeing to the order sought by the DA.”
- The fourth rebuke came from EFF leader Julius Malema who tweeted: “But the #DAcongress should be covered live by the SABC, it’s only fair…”
(Given the massive coverage given by the SABC to the ANC’s last national elective conference in 2012 in Mangaung, Malema’s point was valid.)
So that’s the three largest political parties in the country all united in condemning Matthews’ arrogance and his unconstitutional determination to prevent the majority of the country’s people from gleaning as much information as possible about the Democratic Alliance’s elective conference that saw Mmusi Maimane elected as the new leader of the party.
The SABC’s lawyer Terry Motau’s main point of opposition to the DA application was that there would be deleterious financial implications because of lost advertising revenue if scheduled TV programmes were cancelled and replaced by a live broadcast of the DA congress. The SABC felt that it was more important for the country’s urban and rural poor, who could not afford to DStv, to watch other programmes instead. Here is how one of the country’s leading television authorities, Thinus Ferreira, summed up the SABC’s intentions and what the poorest of the poor were to be offered: “Instead of giving the Democratic Alliance live coverage on (free-to-air) SABC2, the SABC and SABC2 wanted to stick to its ‘regular’ schedule on Saturday of broadcasting repeats and the lowbrow Japanese game show Takeshi’s Castle, and on Sunday more repeats and the American lifestyle show Iyanla Fix My Life.”
Strangely enough, given Advocate Motau’s concerns, financial constraints were apparently not relevant when Snuki Zikalala spent a quarter of a billion rand on his African Al Jazeera fantasy which South Africans could not access because the necessary decoder could not be purchased here (I know, I tried) and financial constraints were of no consequence when, prior to the 2010 Soccer World Cup, finance minister, Pravan Gordhan, issued a warning to tax-payer funded institutions not to splurge money on soccer tickets.
The SABC splurged almost three and a half million rand on these tickets knowing that the ANC would never dream of either taking action against those responsible or trying to recover the money.
The SABC also had no concerns about advertising revenue lost by cancelling scheduled programmes to give live coverage to political events when, on 12 May 2012, it gave two hours 20 minutes and 28 seconds of live coverage to the state-funded funeral of Sicelo Shiceka, the man dubbed ‘The Minister of Lies’ after a damning report by public protector Thuli Madonsela.
It roped in all its experienced reporters, Vuyo Mvoko, Chriselda Lewis, Thami Dixon et al and it gave maximum pre-publicity to the event.
“The funeral will be broadcast on SABC 2 from 9 to 11 this morning and streamed on YouTube.” You can watch it on YouTube and you will note that it specifically says in the supers that it is being broadcast on SABC2 and “Live from the Standard Bank Arena in Johannesburg.”
So desperate is the SABC to starve the ‘Obama of Soweto’ of airtime that on 17 February it omitted his ‘Broken Man’ speech in parliament from the 18h30 TV news bulletin on the SABC3 channel. Capetonian Robert Abel approached the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. The response from the SABC was predictable but hardly credible: “Unfortunately in this instance, the story headlined did not arrive in time to be carried in the bulletin on SABC3, but was indeed included on the bulletin as it continued on Channel 404 on DSTV.”
Get real, folks. The parliamentary video feed goes to the SABC studios in the Marks Building just down the road from the National Assembly. It also goes to the Auckland Park HQ of the SABC. Any competent political reporter and video editor – and the SABC has many – could have top-and-tailed that mid-afternoon soundbite in 15 minutes at the outside and had it ready for insertion into a bulletin. If eNCA could include it in its 18h30 channel 403 bulletin why not the SABC? Besides, it’s a stale tactic. The SABC tried a similar excuse on 9 August 2005 when members of the ANC Youth League, who were aggrieved because Jacob Zuma had been axed by President Thabo Mbeki, booed Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka off the stage 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. Its repeated lies in this regard were subsequently exposed by e.tv which led, in turn, to the departure of then SABC spokesman, Paul Setsetse.
One can, however, understand the panic in Luthuli House and the concomitant panic at Hlaudi House.
- On the eve of last year’s elections, Abahlali baseMjondolo which represents 27 000 shack dwellers, the poorest of the poor, issued a press statement headlined “The ANC Must be removed from Office’ and endorsed the Democratic Alliance.
- Two weeks ago the Democratic Alliance Student Association (DASO) took the Student Representative Council election at Fort Hare University with a 52 % majority – despite the fact that, because of the symbolic importance of Fort Hare to the ANC, it sent in heavyweights like Cyril Ramaphosa and the Fort Hare University Vice-Chancellor Mvuyo Tom to canvas support for the ANC student body.
- At the weekend the Democratic Alliance voted to have a black man lead the party thus realising what people like Peter Brown dreamed about when they started the Liberal Party 62 years ago.
These are all encouraging signs of the broadening of our democracy and the principled stand of Mthembu against the SABC’s corrupt censorship by omission practices must be seen in this light. He thus echoes the words of Makhudu Sefara, then editor of The Star and now head of communications at the Johannesburg municipality in his article, ‘SABC insults the memory of the Struggle’: “But when it is evident that Motsoeneng has transmogrified our national asset, a national key point, into a bad joke, we owe it to those people who died in battle, the Vuyisile Minis, the Solomon Mahlangus, the Chris Hanis, the Oliver Tambos, to correct this.”
Read Sam Mkokeli’s article in Business Day about how he was blacklisted by the SABC and Gwede Mantashe’s response: “It’s their (SABC staff’s) stupid decision, write that!” and you sense a growing unease and discomfort among senior ANC politicians and the intelligentsia about the way in which corruption – and the SABC’s initial determination to restrict coverage of the Democratic Alliance congress to a relatively wealthy DSTV audience is a manifestation of that – is besmirching the name and reputation of a revered institution.
Regime change could well mean that Cyril Ramaphosa takes over the political leadership of the country and I was immensely encouraged by his words at the Nat Nakasa Awards Dinner in Cape Town on June 22 last year.
He urged the media to give credit to the ANC where credit was due but also said it must hold the ANC to account.
In 1992, two years before the ANC succeeded the National Party, Ramaphosa said of the SABC: “The ANC believes that unquestioning loyalty by a public broadcaster to a ruling party is incompatible with democracy – whether or not the ruling party enjoys the support of the majority of the population.
“When the ANC wins the electoral support of the majority of South Africans, it will not seek to replace the National Party as the subject of the SABC’s slavish loyalty. And we want to establish both the principle and practice of that independence now.
“The ANC is committed to public broadcasting which is independent of the government of the day, and which owes its loyalty not to any party, but to the population as a whole. In other words, we propose a broadcast service committed to providing full and accurate information to all South Africans, and one which is protected from interference by any special interests – be they political, economic or cultural.
“We are not asking for equal time. However, we do insist that the public be informed of all views fully and fairly through a public broadcaster’s loyalty to serving a total audience with integrity.
“If the SABC is to play a constructive role ahead of our country’s first experience with democracy, informing the electorate rather than attempting to persuade them to vote for a particular political party, it is necessary to replace those who currently control the SABC with others who are committed to democracy and to an electorate empowered by accurate and impartial information.” (my emphasis)
How can those words be reconciled with the attitude and statements by Matthews which forced the Democratic Alliance to go to court to achieve what Ramaphosa articulated 23 years ago? How true his words were then and how ironically they resonate now in the light of Matthews’ intransigence.
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