SABC 'a government mouthpiece'

2005-05-16 18:35

Johannesburg - Representatives of civil society said on Monday during a public debate that the South African Broadcasting Corporation was a state apparatus whose job it was to serve the government as a 'mouthpiece'.

This was in contrast to how the SABC described itself - as a public broadcaster.

SABC strategic corporate services CE Ihron Rensburg noted that state broadcasters operated outside a legitimate and independent regulatory environment.

While state broadcasters reported and depicted the views only of the government and its organs, this was not the case at the SABC as it also gave the opposition and civil society coverage, he argued.

Rensburg believed that discussion should now move away from whether the corporation was a state or a public broadcaster to whether it was delivering quality programming as well as content and, if yes, to what extent.

Described as a 'soap opera'

Mail & Guardian editor Ferial Haffajee said there was no need to debate whether the SABC was a state or a public broadcaster, instead deriding it as "a soap opera", citing the exodus of SABC bosses - Joe Thloloe, Peter Matlare and recently Judy Nwokedi - as an example of a never-ending story.

She cried foul at the so-called political appointments - a reference to individuals such as Miranda Strydom and Snuki Zikalala landing top jobs in the newsroom.

Members of the public accused the SABC of persistently punting the government, the president and the ruling party, no matter how petty or irrelevant the subject was.

Such action served as a red herring and diverted attention from issues that were of public interest, they said.

Questions raised about the coverage - or lack thereof - of HIV/Aids issues were met with Rensburg's assertion that the SABC had done well on that front.

He alluded to accolades the broadcaster had collected for HIV/Aids-related reportage.

Jane Duncan of the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI), the organisers of the event, said that, on the back of some of the dynamics playing out at the corporation, "maybe we should consider a debate that looks as to whether the SABC is a ruling party broadcaster or a public broadcaster".

Minister has final say

She said it was "completely inappropriate" that the decision to appoint the top three bosses - CEO, chief operations officer and chief financial officer - lay directly with Minister (of communications) Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri).

This position compromised the sovereignty of the SABC board and potentially had a detrimental impact on content.

Rensburg conceded that the process of appointing the SABC board needed an overhaul.

While decrying the lack of community participation at processes such as the regulator's public hearings pertaining to licencing conditions, the FXI hailed what it described as "growing activism".