Icasa: SABC must jus­tify protests ban

Pub­lic broad­caster on the de­fence as its de­ci­sion to veto vi­o­lent protests on TV is called into le­gal ques­tion amid fears of en­cour­ag­ing fur­ther cen­sor­ship Rav­aged board

CityPress - - News - ANDISIWE MAKINANA andisiwe.makinana@city­press.co.za

The SABC has un­til to­mor­row to pro­vide the In­de­pen­dent Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Au­thor­ity of SA (Icasa) with rea­sons it was cor­rect to ban footage of vi­o­lent protests from tele­vi­sion screens. Icasa’s com­plaints and com­pli­ance com­mit­tee made this rul­ing on Wed­nes­day, say­ing the mat­ter was ur­gent, af­ter lobby group Me­dia Mon­i­tor­ing Africa com­plained to the statu­tory in­sti­tu­tion that the SABC’s de­ci­sion was in con­flict with the pub­lic broad­caster’s du­ties as out­lined in the Broad­cast­ing Act, and the Con­sti­tu­tion.

Me­dia Mon­i­tor­ing Africa’s Wil­liam Bird said they were chal­leng­ing the ban be­cause it con­sti­tuted cen­sor­ship.

Bird said no one knew why the SABC had taken the de­ci­sion, or what wrong they sought to ad­dress – adding that it was un­clear what the ac­tual de­ci­sion was.

“It should at least be writ­ten down, but we are left to rely on a press re­lease. The ab­sence of clar­ity is likely to not only lead to con­fu­sion, but will di­rectly en­cour­age self­cen­sor­ship and a chilling ef­fect,” said Bird.

He said the ban meant view­ers needed to be cau­tious of the news em­a­nat­ing from the SABC.

“Pri­mar­ily, though, it means they are likely to get a more sani­tised ver­sion of the news, pre­vent­ing the au­di­ence from mak­ing up their own mind about the events and be­ing more clearly di­rected.”

The SABC had ar­gued to Icasa that the mat­ter was not ur­gent. Yes­ter­day, SABC spokesper­son Kaizer Kganyago said the broad­caster would not dis­close to the me­dia the ar­gu­ment it would put to Icasa over the mat­ter. But he re­peat­edly told City Press that it was not true that the SABC “banned any­thing”, nor was it cen­sor­ing news.

Kganyago said those who com­plained about the de­ci­sion not to air footage of the de­struc­tion of prop­erty were mis­in­ter­pret­ing the SABC’s state­ment.

“Peo­ple keep say­ing that we are ban­ning some­thing, they say we say we are not go­ing to cover vi­o­lent protest. That is not what we are say­ing. We are say­ing the op­po­site. We are say­ing we will con­tinue to cover protests. The only thing we are not go­ing to show is the footage of peo­ple burn­ing or de­stroy­ing prop­erty. But we will give peo­ple the in­for­ma­tion. But we are say­ing: ‘If you are do­ing this thing that we do not agree with, this part [de­stroy­ing prop­erty], we are not go­ing to give you the lux­ury of think­ing you can show off that.’”

He ar­gued that peo­ple were se­lec­tive in what they read, re­fer­ring to Icasa’s reg­u­la­tions in a sec­tion guid­ing broad­cast­ers on how to deal with chil­dren. “We should not give chil­dren an im­pres­sion that vi­o­lence is the only way of solv­ing a prob­lem.”

In his rul­ing on ur­gency, Ja­cobus van Rooyen – who chairs the com­plaints and com­pli­ance com­mit­tee – said the SABC, in ef­fect, ar­gues that “the peo­ple who de­stroy pub­lic prop­erty, thereby go­ing be­yond their right to protest, do not have a right to cov­er­age by the SABC”.

Van Rooyen said the main is­sue was for Icasa to pro­vide clar­ity to the pub­lic and the SABC.

“It is ur­gent that this un­cer­tainty be re­moved and a de­ci­sion be reached on whether the SABC’s de­ci­sion is jus­ti­fi­able in law or not. Every day counts and that makes the mat­ter ur­gent – that is so, whether an elec­tion is im­mi­nent or not.”

Be­sides the ban of protest vi­su­als, the SABC also dropped The Edi­tors ra­dio pro­gramme with­out no­tice.

The pub­lic broad­caster had also banned the read­ing of news­pa­per head­lines or dis­cussing news­pa­pers’ front pages on air, ra­tio­nal­is­ing the de­ci­sion as giv­ing free pub­lic­ity to print me­dia. These de­vel­op­ments come amid Par­lia­ment’s fail­ure to fill six va­can­cies on the 12-mem­ber SABC board for over two years.

Par­lia­ment’s port­fo­lio com­mit­tee on com­mu­ni­ca­tions has ad­ver­tised and short-listed for the va­can­cies a num­ber of times, but they re­main un­filled.

ANC MP Dikeledi Tsotetsi, the party’s whip in the port­fo­lio com­mit­tee on com­mu­ni­ca­tions, said the process to fill the va­can­cies was de­layed by the ver­i­fi­ca­tion of the can­di­dates’ cre­den­tials. She con­firmed that the com­mit­tee had short-listed names for three board va­can­cies, but wanted to in­ter­view can­di­dates who had gone through vet­ting and were deemed “clean”.

DA MP Phumzile van Damme, who sits on the com­mu­ni­ca­tions com­mit­tee, said there was a con­certed ef­fort by ANC mem­bers on the com­mit­tee not to fill the va­can­cies. She said de­spite can­di­dates be­ing short-listed in Fe­bru­ary, meet­ings sched­uled for in­ter­views were ei­ther post­poned or can­celled with­out rea­son. “It would ap­pear that the ANC mem­bers have been in­structed to await the pass­ing of the Broad­cast­ing Amend­ment Bill, which will do away with Par­lia­ment’s role in nom­i­nat­ing and in­ter­view­ing can­di­dates for the SABC board.”

Do you agree with the SABC that not broad­cast­ing vi­o­lent protest scenes will re­duce vi­o­lent protests?

SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word PROTEST. In­clude your name and prov­ince. SMSes cost R1.50

PHOTO: MARY-ANN PALMER

STICK­ING TO HIS GUNS SABC chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng

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