SABC bosses ‘censored’ State of the Nation coverage

2015-02-15 17:16
Journalists attending the State of the Nation address hold their phones in the air to protest against the jammed signal in the House. (Lerato Maduna, City Press)

Journalists attending the State of the Nation address hold their phones in the air to protest against the jammed signal in the House. (Lerato Maduna, City Press)

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Johannesburg - SABC viewers didn’t get to see all of the drama at Thursday night’s State of the Nation address because news boss Jimi Matthews instructed the TV director not to cut to pictures of opposition parties leaving the National Assembly, City Press reports.

City Press has also learnt that chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng banned the use of commentators on TV and radio.

Meanwhile, more drama is being piled on to an already dramatic State of the Nation broadcast with news that four of six eNCA satellite signals were jammed.

Primedia Broadcasting is also believed to have written to the Speaker of the National Assembly about the media’s right to use its own recording feeds in Parliament and about the cellphone signal-scrambling device installed for the State of the Nation. Primedia is considering legal action, as are other civil society organisations.

The coverage of the State of the Nation by SABC2 and other broadcasters differed vastly, even though all media channels relied on the same feed and all had their own cameras outside.

The Parliament TV feed did not show the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) being forcibly removed, but instead kept cameras trained on Speaker Baleka Mbete and national council of provinces chair Thandi Modise. The walk-out by the DA was also not shown, despite Parliament having plenty of cameras available.

It was only when journalists uploaded cellphone footage that broadcasters such as eNCA could show what happened.

Hannes du Buisson, president of the Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers’ Union, on Friday said: “It has been reported by members who overheard conversations on comms and in the control room that a senior news boss instructed the director not to cut away from the feed.”

Several sources working on the State of the Nation broadcast said the instructions came from Matthews, SABC’s group executive of news and current affairs, who called the shots from the SABC’s outside broadcast unit.

City Press learnt that an SABC parliamentary reporter ran from the media gallery to the doors of the National Assembly with a camera operator to join teams from eNCA and ANN7 to film EFF members being evicted.

But sources said Matthews instructed: “Do not cut away! You will not cut away from the Speaker.”

SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago confirmed this: “Yes, the head of news instructed that we keep on the president, as we were there to capture the president’s speech.”

He dismissed claims about the journalist: “The cameras that you are referring to are positioned at that same position every year to capture the parliamentarians when they leave Parliament. It is rather naive to think that they were there to capture the exit of the EFF. It must be noted that this does not suggest that we did not cover the EFF when they left Parliament. We covered them when they were marching out towards Marks Building.”

'You have an iPhone. Use it'

Faced with the same lack of shot options from Parliament TV, eNCA’s executive producer, Mapi Mhlangu, said: “Our reporter Paula Chowles was in the assembly. We issued an instruction. We said: ‘You have an iPhone. Use it.’ She shot the EFF removal and uploaded it to YouTube, emailed us the link and we were able to download it and broadcast it within 10 minutes.”

SABC2’s coverage was plagued by technical problems, despite an upgrade in December that introduced state of the art recording systems to Parliament TV. SABC showed the red carpet and used presenters to host their State of the Nation coverage, but featured no political analysts. Several SABC insiders said this instruction came from Motsoeneng. The decision was questioned by members of the SABC’s news team, but their managers repeatedly overruled them.

Kganyago said: “It was our plan not to use commentators, as we have senior journalists who we felt are capable enough to do the work at hand.”

William Bird, director of Media Monitoring Africa, said: “You would expect... that the national broadcaster would have had the best commentators in the country to unpack the president’s address... It seems like an extraordinary decision to leave it to the presenters... one of whom repeated the president’s joke in the end, saying that the opposition were missing out by not hearing the speech.”

Meanwhile, eNCA told City Press that four of their six satellite lines from Parliament “were jammed by an unknown rogue operator” on Thursday night - not for the first time.

eNCA managing director Patrick Conroy said: “We have been affected during high-profile news events since April last year, including the elections and the Oscar Pistorius trial. Because nonpolitical events have also been targeted, we do not believe there is a political motive for this.

“What is sinister about this is that the rogue operator is transmitting a data stream with no video, audio or transmitter information on it... It is hard for us not to suspect sabotage.”

Regarding the Primedia Broadcasting letter and legal action, Eyewitness News editor in chief Katy Katopodis did not deny the rumours, but was not willing to comment.

At a New Age newspaper business breakfast on Friday morning, Motsoeneng reiterated the SABC’s editorial policy to promote a “70% good [news] story”.

Read more on:    sabc  |  state of the nation 2015  |  parliament 2015  |  politics

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