Welcome exit

2009-04-30 00:00

The board of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) has announced that its contract with Snuki Zikalala, head of its news and current affairs section, will not be renewed when it expires at the end of April. This is welcome news because Zikalala’s style of operation has seriously inhibited the presentation of unbiased comment and diversity of opinion. A low point on his watch was his controversial blacklisting of commentators who were likely to be highly critical of the country’s ruling party. His approach has been governed by a siege mentality reminiscent of Stalinism and McCarthyism in the days of the Cold War.

The National Party in the apartheid era adopted a similar approach to media control. It was not expected to be a feature of the post-1994 dispensation and yet it has been so, albeit in a more muted form. It is time for ideological media control to be rooted out once and for all. The decision not to renew Zikalala’s contract is perhaps a pointer in this direction. The SABC’s board chairwoman, Kanyi Mkonza, has spoken of the need for “fresh ideas”. What is also needed is a genuinely clean broom which will take the national broadcaster to new levels of openness in telling the news as it is, without fear or favour and making room for a full range of opinion.

The media industry is currently facing a difficult set of challenges apart from the need to establish a new sociopolitical dynamic in its broadcasting. Financial streamlining is also required in the SABC, one sign of this being the board’s decision to close down three of its bureau in other countries and to reduce its committees to six. These organisational disciplines are part of what has been announced as a turnaround strategy. All this makes sound sense in a testing economic climate as long as it is accompanied by equally sound policy in the making of appointments which asserts its independence from any ideological or party political pressure.

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