The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) has objected to the SABC’s decision to limit the broadcasting of protests on grounds that the destruction of public property will fuel public violence.
“The SABC has a huge viewership. Many people rely on it and will be left poorer if the SABC decides not to give the full story,” Sanef chairperson, Mpumelelo Mkhabela, said.
“If anything, they should focus on better journalism than seeking to censor images.”
This follows the SABC’s decision to no longer broadcast footage of people destroying public property during protests.
The public broadcaster announced its decision last night, saying it condemned destructive behaviour and will no longer publicise it. The decision would be implemented with immediate effect.
The decision has been frowned upon by interest groups calling the move propagandist and another tactic to censor the media.
The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) has also echoed similar sentiments saying that violence and the destruction of property were sometimes part of the story when protests happened.
“Ignoring the reality of protest will not make the fundamental motivations for it go away. [The] SABC’s apparent unwillingness to trust ordinary viewers to interpret images of protest for themselves is unfortunate,” said executive director, Stuart Wilson.
The SABC, however, viewed its new stance as a bold decision saying it was their “responsibility to educate citizens”.
“When people see the footage of themselves doing that on public television, they encourage other people in other communities to think that for them to get the attention from us they need to do the same,” SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said.
“We are not censoring. We are not, as a public broadcaster, going to encourage such deeds,” he said emphatically.
The SABC further called on other media houses to stand in solidarity with its decision and not cover violent protests.
Mkhabela said although the public broadcaster was entitled to call for a backing, it would be asking media houses to do the wrong thing.
“That’s actually asking for a total shutdown; you’re asking for people to rely on other media. Should our people now read stories told by foreigners? Must people turn to smartphones?”
The Right2Know Campaign (R2K) also expressed its concerns about the SABC’s decision.
“We are highly dismayed. This is a form of self-censorship and it’s unjustifiable. As a national broadcaster, the SABC is mandated to broadcast the realities of everyday South African lives. Protests, violence or otherwise are our everyday reality,” said R2K’s Busi Mtabane.
“The right to protest is under threat in South Africa. This is one of many ways in which the government is trying to silence any dissenting voices. Most protests are non-violent but it just happens that only those who turn violent get prominent media coverage,” she added.
The Democratic Alliance’s shadow minister of communications‚ Phumzile Van Damme, released a statement saying it was an absurd decision which was “a result of the new SABC editorial policy approved in secret by Minister of Communications, Faith Muthambi, and the SABC Board in February this year”.
“Editorial decisions should be made by news editors‚ and not politically appointed management‚ in order to insulate news decisions from any commercial or political considerations,” she said.
SANEF held a brief discussion earlier today where they decided a way forward regarding the SABC’s statement.
“We’re trying to understand the context of the decision taken by the SABC and plan to put forward an appeal for them to reconsider,” Mkhabela said.
Right2Know has also vowed to take a form of action against the decision.
In the meantime, they’re calling on journalists, especially SABC workers, to put pressure on management “to reverse this unconstitutional decision,” Mtabane said.
“Community media should also pull up their socks and make sure that community news are given first preference,” she added.
The DA has said it is in the process of considering its legal options following the announcement.