Cape Town - Minister of Communications Faith Muthambi has quietly approved the SABC's editorial policy, giving COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng total control of content and programming, the DA has discovered.
The DA said in a statement on Sunday that it discovered via a reply to a parliamentary question that the policy had been finalised in February 2016 by the SABC board and Minister Muthambi.
In the SABC’s previous editorial review process in 2004, a draft version of the policy was released for public comment. A draft was not released this time around, despite an undertaking from the SABC that it would do so after considering inputs on the existing policy.
"We requested a copy from Minister Muthambi, and it became patently clear through a reading of the policy why she had chosen to finalise and approve it in secret," said DA MP and spokesperson Phumzile Van Damme.
"The policy gives the COO of the SABC, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, total control of the SABC’s content and programming."
Van Damme said with Motsoeneng having sole authority over all SABC’s programming, it will seriously compromise the SABC’s editorial independence as a public broadcaster.
She said another problematic inclusion in the revised policy is that it makes the principle of “upward referral” mandatory and Motsoeneng’s decision on all editorial issues, final.
"Editors and journalists are threatened with severe consequences should they not refer 'contentious' matters to their superiors and Mr Motsoeneng," said Van Damme.
"This is a complete U-turn from the old policy, where it was made clear that it is not management’s role to make day-to-day programming and newsroom decisions and although not ideal, upward referral was largely voluntary.
"It is basic principle in many news organisations worldwide that editorial decisions should to be made by news editors, and not management, in order insulate news decisions from any commercial or political considerations," she said.
Van Damme suggested that there is no reason for upward referral to the COO as the public broadcaster has a legal department where contentious issues can be consulted.
"The DA therefore believes that in order to deal with this, and other contentious issues in the policy, the public and interested parties should be given the opportunity to voice their views on the policy before implementation."
The DA wants Muthambi to withdraw the policy, publish it as a draft policy, and conduct fresh public participation.
"It is highly unethical, and possibly illegal, that despite a promise, in writing, by the SABC, that there would be a draft editorial policy published for public comment, this did not happen."
Muthambi laid into journalists on Friday for painting the South African government as "corrupt, hapless and inept”, Fin24 reported.
“There is a huge disconnect between the expectations of both Government and media on what exactly the role of the media should be,” Muthambi said when she delivered her department’s budget vote in parliament.
The media, on the contrary would rather focus on “scandalising government”, Muthambi said, “even if it means not getting all the facts right”.