South Africa

Civil society vs Hlaudification of the SABC

By Greg Nicolson 3 May 2014

Less than a week before elections and on the eve of World Press Freedom Day, the SABC saw yet another protest at its doors on Friday. Civil society groups joined the chorus of political parties denouncing the public broadcaster’s lack of independence and quality local content. By GREG NICOLSON.

Civil society groups joined the list of political parties criticising the public broadcaster recently by protesting outside its Auckland Park head offices. Right2Know, Save Our SABC, the Independent Producers’ Organisation, the Democratic Left Front and members of the National Union of Metalworkers SA (Numsa) accused the SABC of favouring the governing party, intimidating its journalists and failing to air quality, local content.

“If you want to speak to the ANC, go to Luthuli House,” roared Numsa national education coordinator, Dinga Sikwebu. The nation needed to hear the truth about issues like Nkandla, said the unionist. In December, Numsa resolved to build a united front to organise and coordinate the working class and was there on Friday to support organisations affiliated to the new movement.

“We are here to register our concerns of the continuing Hlaudification of the SABC newsroom. We are here to urge the SABC to act on Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s recommendations,” said Numsa spokesperson, Castro Ngobese.

SABC acting chief of operations, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, is widely criticised as using the public broadcaster to push the ANC’s agenda. In her investigation into the SABC, Madonsela recommended steps be taken against him after he was found to have purged staff, had received three pay increases in a year and lied about having a matric certificate.

Both the Democratic Alliance (DA) and Economic Freedom Fighters have denounced the SABC in the lead up to the elections. Asked whether Numsa, which may launch a workers party to contest future elections, is jumping on the bandwagon of criticising the ANC through the SABC, Ngobese said, “We are portrayed as anti-ANC… But who cares? We have been called worse.”

With chains tied to his hands, Save Our SABC coalition coordinator, Sekoetlane Phamodi, addressed the crowd, many with tape over their mouths. He accused the public broadcaster of failing to give a voice to the poor and bowing to big business and the ANC instead.

When the SABC did focus on service delivery issues, it was only to label protestors hooligans and animals, Phamodi added.

“We cannot live in a country which looks like the apartheid regime,” he yelled, with some SABC staff looking on from inside the gates. “We want a free public broadcaster. We want a free press.”

Right2Know member and media analyst, and Daily Maverick columnist Julie Reid held aloft her organisation’s flyer marking the 23rd anniversary of adoption of the Windhoek Declaration on Promoting an Independent and Plurastic Media. Reid’s poster reminded those gathered that many African countries were still arresting journalists and restricting work.

In South Africa, increasing government and corporate pressure meant, “the gradual loss of organisational and political independence as well as press freedom, made worse by many media outlets succumbing to various forms of censorship,” according to the flyer.

Right2Know says the situation is worsened by the Protection of State Information Bill, which is waiting to be signed by President Zuma as well as corporate media monopolies, threats to whistleblowers and harassment of journalists. Last week, VIP Protection police deleted photos of police transporting ANC election gear off eNCA reporter Nickolaus Bauer’s phone. SAPS say management is scheduled to meet him to discuss the issue.

“Our public broadcaster, the SABC, is increasingly becoming the mouthpiece of the state and ruling party; willfully underplaying the state’s illegitimate use of violence against the people of this country, censoring programming that asks why our public representatives have failed us and willfully misinterpreting its editorial policies and regulations to silence opposition parties and the public from airing their grievances and opinions,” Right2Know continues in its flyer.

For Eunice Manzini, chairperson of Voices of the Poor Concerned Residents, challenging the SABC is about bread and butter issues. She said issues of service delivery and service delivery failures must receive attention instead of repeats of The Bold and The Beautiful and soapies with the same stories and actors. Like many of the speakers outside the SABC, Manzini said people’s voices, stories and opinions weren’t being reflected. If they were, people might get a chance to comment on issues about electricity, water, housing and the cost of living.

Friday’s demonstration adds to recent criticism that has made the SABC a focal point of this year’s elections. After the SABC tried to ban the DA’s first Ayisafani advert, then reportedly banned the second (the public broadcaster says it will be aired; and why not – it’s about as inciting as an Omo commercial), DA leader Helen Zille said it’s an example of “complete disgraceful censorship”.

In another demonstration outside the SABC on Tuesday, EFF leader, Julius Malema, blatantly claimed Motsoeneng is Zuma’s lapdog and told him he’ll be forgotten by the president soon enough. “I was once in the same position, supporting and protecting Zuma. I was like you, I used to protect him,” said Malema. “I must warn you that he is going to throw you out like a used condom. Ask Vavi and Mbalula. When it was time to dump us he did not think twice.”

SABC spokesperson, Kaizer Kganyago, recently said Motsoeneng is being used by other political parties as a rallying point for the 7 May elections but the public broadcaster has in the past and continues to cover elections free and fairly. DM

Photo by Greg Nicolson.

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