Friday, October 18, 2013

Right2know plans to protest the SABC's canning of the Big Debate show ahead of national Media Freedom Day

The Right2Know Campaign is outraged at the decision of the SABC to pull the independently produced current affairs talk show, ‘The Big Debate’, off air directly before the start of this show’s second season. We note with disgust that the public broadcaster enacted this decision a mere two days before South Africans celebrated national media freedom day on 19 October, since it makes a mockery of the principle of freedom of expression in the media and amongst citizens generally.

One of the shows that has been banned focused on Right2Know's Vula 'ma Connextion campaign for the right to communicate. The show featured a robust debate with cell phone operators and senior government officials from the Dept of Communications as well as State Security focused on the impact of failed government policy and profiteering in undermining the public’s right to know.

The SABC’s canning of the Big Debate smacks of political censorship and an abuse of the public broadcaster to protect certain individuals' political interests. In its first season of 10 episodes the Big Debate offered viewers high quality programming and deep level debates on various current affairs pertinent to South Africa.

We wholeheartedly reject Kaizer Kganyago’s (SABC’s head of group communications) statement that the show was pulled for reasons of editorial oversight, and that news and current affairs programmes should not be outsourced. It is telling that the SABC suddenly discovered this so-called ‘lapse’ once the first season had ended, and the show had earned a reputation as a tough-talking debate where Ministers went to be ‘sliced, diced and fried’ . It would appear that the SABC wants to insource current affairs because the programme producers are too independently-minded for the broadcaster, and they have developed cold feet with a national election looming.

This has happened as the SABC is on a nationwide roadshow to ensure public participation in the review of editorial policies. The decision flies in the face of the current and draft policies which both commit the public broadcaster to reflect the diverse range of South African attitudes and opinions. At recent public appearances the SABC GCEO Lulama Mokhobo held up the Big Debate as the best example of this diversity.

The SABC is being dragged back to the days when it was a state broadcaster practicing political censorship ahead of the public’s right to know.

In the wake of SABC’s acting chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s recent call for the production of 70% ‘good news’ we are witnessing the continued erosion of the broadcaster's independence. We do not want skewed and biased sunshine journalism from our public broadcaster – we want real news, culture and current affairs!

The public are fed a diet of cheap American sitcoms, aspirational soap operas and poor quality foreign programming in part because of the perennial underfunding and financial mismanagement at the SABC. The Big Debate is a massively popular exception to this that gives South Africans a taste of what a true public broadcaster can deliver.

The Right2Know reiterates our call for an SABC that is publicly funded and free of state or corporate censorship of editorial content.

In protest at the continuing censorship and lack of editorial independence at the SABC, as well as the canning of the Big Debate, we are issuing a public call to protest: Thursday 24 October 2013 from 12:00am-14:00pm outside the SABC in Auckland Park, Johannesburg

For further comment contact:
Dale McKinley (Cell: 072 429 4086)

Julie Reid (Cell: 082 885 8969)


Mark Weinberg
R2K National Coordinator
NEW CELL 0849930591
OFFICE 0214471000