Staff lash SABC for 'taking sides'

2014-04-13 15:00

Senior SABC news executives say they have been ordered not to broadcast footage of the crowds attending opposition election rallies.

This instruction – and SABC board chairperson Ellen Tshabalala’s warning to news staff that their cellphones were being monitored – has underlined the controversial role the public broadcaster is playing in this year’s elections.

The SABC has become the focal point of the elections after its journalists alleged political interference in their work.

Three senior SABC news executives, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of losing their jobs, told City Press of other examples of what they claim is extensive political interference. These include:

.?A controversial new instruction, issued earlier this year, that new parties that do not yet have representation in Parliament are not entitled to live coverage of their manifesto launches. Parties like the Economic Freedom Fighters were denied live coverage.

.?Senior managers told staff in regional SABC offices to ignore election coverage decisions taken in daily editorial meetings.

.?Controversial chief operations officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng this week issued an instruction that the news department should no longer cover “violent” service-delivery protests, saying it was serving no purpose.

.?Interference by SABC board chairperson Tshabalala, who warned news staff that their cellphones were being monitored because they work for a national key point.

The public broadcaster yesterday became embroiled in yet another controversy after it banned a DA campaign advertisement in which its Gauteng premier candidate, Mmusi Maimane, said “[President Jacob] Zuma is corrupt and is taking us backwards”.

This follows the Public Protector’s finding that Zuma and his family improperly benefited from the more than R200?million the state spent on his home in Nkandla.

The DA yesterday appealed to communications watchdog Icasa for a ruling on the matter.

The three news executives say that “numerous instances of interference in their work” pushed staff to fight back against their bosses at a three-day elections workshop last month.

They extracted an undertaking from senior managers that they would act in accordance with the public broadcasting mandate as set out in the Broadcasting Act, the Icasa Act and the SABC’s editorial policies.

The three news executives said the move was prompted after staff felt that Motsoeneng’s tight control of news was getting out of hand.

This was after an instruction, attributed to Motsoeneng, that camera shots showing the crowds at opposition rallies should not be aired.

The instruction adds that opposition party leaders should be shown speaking on stage or that they be interviewed after the rally.

However, this rule did not apply to the ANC.

The staff also said that in a deliberate move to prevent the coverage of the EFF, an instruction was issued this year that only parties with a 1% representation in Parliament would enjoy coverage of their manifesto launches.

But staff pointed out that in 2009, the Congress of the People’s manifesto launch was well covered even though the party had no parliamentary representation.

Staff members question the decision to stop showing images of violent service-delivery protests.

“Why is the SABC getting involved in this? Why should we not show violent protests?” asked an editor.

SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago denied all the allegations. He insisted that the public broadcaster was acting in accordance with Icasa and IEC regulations.

“There is no truth in the fact that the opposition parties’ crowds are not shown. This is just trying to find fault with the SABC,” he said.

“On the issue of regulation, I have indicated in my response that elections are regulated by Icasa and the Independent Electoral Commission. The SABC does not make regulations for the election.

“They are made by Icasa and the IEC in consultation with political parties. All we do is to implement them,” he said.

This week, SABC news staff told City Press they were shocked by Tshabalala’s warning at a meeting in January that their cellphones were being monitored because they work for a national key point.

“She is worse than Hlaudi. She has no idea what being a board member means,” said an editor.

At their election workshop last month, editorial management team members adopted an extensive resolution that they presented to head of news, Jimi Matthews, in which they said they aimed to protect their editorial independence and integrity.

The resolution states: “We reject direct or indirect interference by any political party in the editorial decisions of any part of the SABC news team.

“We will not allow commercial, political or personal considerations to influence editorial decisions. We therefore reject any undue attempts to influence editorial decisions.”

But Kganyago said: “The document you are referring to was a reminder to the newsroom that during elections, it is in the nature of politicians to try to exert influence over journalists.

“The document was a reminder of the editorial values that govern the newsroom and a commitment to adhere to those values.”

Motsoeneng did not answer his phone yesterday.

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