As we explained to Mr Motsoeneng on Friday, it’s never too late to do the right thing. Sadly, in that context Mr Motsoeneng declined to do the right thing and we all watched on in horror and cringed as the SABC’s legal team put forward shallow unsubstantiated and at times, nonsensical arguments, including admitting that the SABC COO doesn’t believe in scientific research.
Through all of last week, we saw a series of interventions including pickets outside the SABC’s various bureaus demanding the axing of the toxic decay in our national public broadcaster brought about by Mr Motsoeneng and his contempt for media freedom and public broadcasting values. On Friday, mass-based community-based structures also protested outside ICASA while the independent regulator’s Complaints and Compliance Committee (CCC) heard our our case opposing Motsoeneng’s unilateral edict to distort the news. The impact of this edict is the misinformation of seven of the 12 million households in South Africa that rely almost exclusively on the SABC for their news and information by banning visuals of protests, particularly those resulting in the destruction of public property as a result of frustrations with local government authorities in a local government election year.
What is clear from Jimi Matthews’ letter is that there is truth to the reports of a serious clamp-down on the State-owned, national public broadcaster, and a deliberate misinformation campaign the likes of which we haven’t seen since under the apartheid era.
Our own sources have been telling us about bans on content on stories on issues and process, as well as bans on the SABC’s staff’s right to comment on the political developments in our country both on air and in their private capacities. To this extent the letter clearly and unambiguously signalled the alarm to all those who care for our democracy that censorship is alive and well at the SABC.
The SABC is at the precipice of not only practicing censorship but losing all credibility and posing a clear and present danger to our democracy. A clear and present danger whose imminence we have repeatedly and consistently warned Parliament about and called on to address through an independent and depoliticised inquiry into the source of the cancer eating the SABC from the inside out, and work together in a multi-party process to arrest and resolve, once and for all.
We call on what little of the SABC Board is left to urgently intervene and do the following:
- Immediately reverse all downward editorial decisions premised on the unlawfully revised editorial policy (including but not limited to the apartheid style ban on covering protests);
- Immediately communicate with all SABC staff and members of the public that a singular threat to our democracy and SABC journalists’ futures will be if they do not adhere to the highest standard of ethical, professional and independent journalism as mandated by the Broadcasting Act;
- Immediately launch a public investigation into the allegations made in Mr Jimi Matthews letter; and
- Initiate the process towards the dismissal of Mr Motsoeneng who is the singular cause of the rot in the SABC effective immediately.
We further call on Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Communication to:
- Accelerate and prioritise filling the vacancies in the SABC Board which has left it inquorate for close to a full year;
- Hold the SABC Board to account for its delinquency, and to publicly communicate the imperative need to ensure free fair elections through banning of censorship within the SABC;
- Summon what little of the inquorate Board to account for its delinquency in discharging its fiduciary duty to advance the mandate of the SABC to the people of South Africa, and failure to prevent the decline of the SABC towards a propagandist broadcaster and enemy of the people of South Africa;
- Undertake a robust, independent and depoliticised public inquiry into the causes of the decade-long crisis of the lack of independence, good governance and stability in the leadership of the SABC.
[Blogger's note: a new CEO has already been appointed just days after resignation. Read more here.]