Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Political interference in the Media

Yet again, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) is facing accusations of political interference.  Controversy and political interference is nothing new for the South African state owned broadcaster.  In 1997, it emerged during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that the SABC actively promoted the apartheid regime.

Since the birth of South Africa’s democracy, the SABC has faced questions around a new African National Congress (ANC) political bias.  These fears have resurfaced with an anonymous letter accusing the broadcaster of taking journalists to task for not airing enough pro-ANC and pro Jacob Zuma material. 

According to TimesLive (and repeated on numerous other news websites), the accusations are as follows:

Reporters have been taken to task for not showing enough visual footage of

Political reporters have been removed from their jobs without adequate reason being given or due process being followed;

Current affairs producers and presenters have been warned that they are too negative about the government and have been advised that they are not defending Zuma enough;

Stories involving former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema had been "treated differently from others”;

Pulling a current affairs show dealing with the presidential elections;

The climate of uncertainty and fear has created a state of paranoia in both the television and radio news rooms and has lowered morale.

The letter was apparently addressed to the SABC board and to acting head of news, Jimi Matthews. It was unsigned for fear or repercussions but was reportedly written by SABC reporters, producers and presenters. 

This follows last week’s news that the South African media watchdog, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), will be investigating the SABC over the alleged “blacklisting” of certain journalists from Metro FM.  Current head of news and current affairs, Phil Molefe, was suspended earlier this year over “editorial policies”.  There have been reports that the suspension was politically motivated; Molefe is currently contesting the suspension, on the basis of political motivation, in the Johannesburg High Court.

The SABC appears to be in some strife. Earlier in the year, the chairman of the SABC told parliament that the board had become “dysfunctional”.  Indeed.  This follows news that the SABC banned a fast food advert, Jacob Zuma’s continual legal battles against cartoonist Zapiro and the proposed Secrecy Bill.  If you add to this equation the on-going internet regulation conference in Dubai, freedom of expression appears to be a scarce commodity in South Africa at the moment.
Consider the cartoon from Zaprio below, and the words of a senior Business Day journalist:

Someone must tell these guys that South Africa is not the Soviet Union”...

press freedom, freedom of epxression

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