The SABC’s inquiry into editorial interference was open to the public for the first time on Monday and heard from EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi. He warned against the ANC’s call for more coverage and said the public broadcaster had a history of marginalising opposition parties.
EFF leader Julius Malema appeared on SABC’s Morning Live on Monday and was on TV for 20 minutes, speaking on everything from his party’s survival over its first five years to mining safety, free higher education, land reform, Pravin Gordhan and disrupting the status quo.
Speaking later in the morning at the inquiry into editorial interference at the public broadcaster, EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi described an SABC where four years ago the party would never have received such a platform.
The inquiry, led by veteran journalist Dr Joe Thloloe, was established by the SABC to probe allegations that the public broadcaster’s editorial decisions have been unduly influenced by outside parties, particularly the ANC. On Monday, the inquiry was open to the media for the first time.
Ndlozi started by outlining the EFF’s 2013 formation and its campaign efforts ahead of the 2014 elections. He described it as a moment “any credible news organisation could not afford to miss”.
The EFF marched to the SABC’s Johannesburg headquarters ahead of the 2014 elections and Ndlozi on Monday repeated long-standing allegations that the public broadcaster was sidelining opposition parties.
The party’s campaign advert calling for the forceful removal of e-toll gantries was banned by the broadcaster and Ndlozi said the SABC instituted a biased policy of balance that favoured the ANC by not allowing any criticism of the ruling party on its many platforms unless an ANC member or analyst was present.
“What we’re trying to establish here is that the decision-making process is not independent, that there is pressure from outside on that process,” said Thloloe at the inquiry in Milpark, Johannesburg.
“We’re supposed to be searching for evidence that the ANC is calling the shots, if it is the ANC.”
Ndlozi insisted ANC leaders had pressured SABC officials to favour the party and marginalise opposition parties but said it would be difficult to prove. He called for the inquiry to interview former acting CEO Jimi Matthews.
After resigning in 2016, Matthews admitted that the SABC, under political pressure, had sidelined the EFF.
“Certain individuals in the ruling party, including people like Hlaudi [Motsoeneng], were of the view that we should not give Julius and his crowd coverage. I was part of that decision,” Matthews said.
The ANC has repeatedly denied it pressured the SABC to marginalise opposition parties and report favourably on the party. Former COO Motsoeneng’s appointment and plans blatantly suggest otherwise.
Motsoeneng, who destroyed the SABC’s finances, ruled the SABC with an iron fist, was an open supporter of former president Jacob Zuma, refused to show footage of violent protests and promoted sunshine journalism.
Ndlozi said the SABC had improved its coverage of the EFF ahead of the 2016 local government elections after certain officials at the public broadcaster had been removed. He maintained that some editors and journalists continue to believe that the amount of coverage political parties receive should be proportional to the votes they win in the elections.
Before the 2014 vote, SABC executives and editors told the EFF it would receive minimal coverage because it’s not yet in Parliament. The ANC’s Zizi Kodwa recently supported the SABC following a similar system of coverage-according-to-votes.
“The ANC enjoys 62%, how that gets carried out in terms of editorial news is something, one way or another it must show,” said the former ANC spokesperson.
“We are going to elections, we are not a 6% [party].”
Ndlozi called the proposition “absurd” and said it “reflects a fascist attitude”, an attempt to turn the SABC into a state rather than public broadcaster.
“It’s those types of attitudes that point to the arrogance and self-entitlement over the institution.”
He used the example of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s daily walks and said there is nothing new that affects the public if the SABC continues to focus on them every day.
“Sixty percent in that context is no longer news, it’s promotion.”
Thloloe’s inquiry will continue to investigate allegations of editorial interference, with some of the hearings now accessible to the public. The hearings were initially closed before Media Monitoring Africa and S.O.S: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition took the matter to court and in an out-of-court settlement agreed that some hearings would be open while those that relate to whistle-blowers must remain confidential.
The inquiry was established after the appointment of the SABC’s new board in October 2017 and, later, new executives.
The new board members have been seen as attempting to turn the public broadcaster around, which was largely financially and ethically bankrupt when they inherited it.
In a major victory for the SABC, a June court ruling prohibited the communications minister from having the power to influence the appointment of executives.
That ruling should preclude unqualified officials like Motsoeneng from being appointed to lead the institution in the future.
The SABC has also instituted an inquiry into sexual harassment, led by experienced social worker and gender activist Barbara Watson.
In March 2018, more than 100 SABC employees signed a petition against the practice of “sex for jobs” and said the ANC was being given favourable treatment. DM
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