Communications Minister Faith Muthambi will appear before Parliament on Tuesday to explain for the first time the SABC’s new editorial policy and other contentious changes made by the state broadcaster in the build-up to the August 3 polls.
Included in the new policy was the banning of footage showing the destruction of public property during protests in the run-up to elections. After being widely condemned for promoting censorship, the broadcaster was instructed by regulatory body the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) to rescind this policy. The SABC opposed this ruling until a court interdict compelled it to comply.
Other alarming SABC changes included a ban on presenters reading newspaper headlines across its radio and television platforms; preventing listeners from calling in to current affairs radio shows for fear of them expressing anti-Zuma sentiments; and dropping, without notice, SAfm’s long-running programme, The Editors, in which senior journalists reviewed the week’s top news stories.
Muthambi was summoned by Parliament’s oversight committee on communications to report on the status of all entities under her watch, including the SABC. On the agenda is her having to brief the committee about the effect that the policy changes have had; details of the implementation plan following Icasa’s ruling; SABC cases currently before the Constitutional Court and labour court, and their financial ramifications; and the SABC’s financial position.
Last week, DA MP Phumzile van Damme announced that the communications committee had acceded to her request for a full-scale parliamentary inquiry into “the institutional rot at the SABC”.
She said she had requested this in terms of the National Assembly Rules, which give powers to portfolio committees to “monitor, investigate, enquire into and make recommendations concerning any ... executive organ of the state”.
But committee chairperson Humphrey Maxegwana denied that they had agreed to an inquiry. “The DA is wrong. How do we have an inquiry before we listen to the minister, the board and Icasa? We said we would listen to what they have to say and if there is a need for an inquiry, we would then explore that.”
Van Damme insisted that the committee had agreed to an inquiry, saying that ANC MPs were now trying to make an about-turn.