‘Censorship is still happening at SABC’

Author and former presidential adviser Khulu Mbatha. Picture: supplied
Author and former presidential adviser Khulu Mbatha. Picture: supplied

The SABC continues to censor political views that oppose the ruling party. That’s according to ANC veteran Khulu Mbatha, author of the critical new book Unmasked: Why the ANC Failed to Govern.

Mbatha was scheduled to discuss his book on Motsweding FM on Thursday night in an interview set up by his publishers, KMM Review Publishing Company. After not receiving a call from the popular radio station, he contacted his publisher.

It was only on Friday morning that Mbatha learned why the interview was canned. He received a text from his publisher that had been sent from a producer at Motsweding FM.

The producer apologised for the lack of communication and explained what happened: “I was advised earlier as I submitted my script to put the interview on hold because of the editorial policy of the SABC. I will be informed further on how to treat the interview moving forward because the content is against the ruling party.”

Mbatha, once a special adviser to former president Kgalema Motlanthe, was angry when City Press contacted him on Friday morning.

“I am very much disturbed. Censorship is still happening at the SABC. It is the worst form of censorship,” he said, just before boarding a flight to the Franschhoek Literary Festival, where he will be talking about his book.

In Unmasked, Mbatha – who is one of 101 ANC veterans who have called for a conference to deal with the ANC’s crisis – delivers a sharp critique of the party. The ANC, he writes, was never truly ready to rule in 1994 and has failed dismally to address the core issue of economic inequality in the country.

Kaizer Kganyago, SABC spokesperson, said the interview was postponed because the station wanted to have time to read the book.

“An email was sent to the relevant party in this regard, and it is not true that the reason for postponing the interview was due to the contents of the book which are said against the ruling party. The reasons are clear and there is no mention of the ruling party.”

On March 8, the council of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), act­ing on the rec­om­men­da­tion of the Com­plaints and Com­pli­ance Com­mit­tee, declared the SABC board’s 2016 amend­ment of its edi­to­r­ial poli­cies to be invalid.

This was after the The SOS Coali­tion and Media Mon­i­tor­ing Africa (MMA), rep­re­sented by the Legal Resources Cen­tre, chal­lenged amend­ments to the SABC’s edi­to­r­ial poli­cies over, among other things, the broadcaster’s refusal to show violent protests.

During former chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s reign at the SABC numerous adverts, commentators and programmes were reportedly canned for presenting views negative to President Jacob Zuma and the ANC.

Icasa found that, in amending its policies, the SABC had failed to consult the public, which is a breach of the SABC’s licence conditions and of the Broad­cast­ing Act.

The SABC was forced to revert to its original editorial policies of 2004.

Contacted on Friday, Icasa spokesperson Paseka Maleka said that Mbatha “can lodge a formal complaint with Icasa and we shall engage the SABC on the matter”.

MMA’s William Bird was aghast when told about the SMS.

“This is fundamentally outrageous,” he said, “with all the emphasis on trying to restore credibility at the public broadcaster. It’s a flagrant violation of [Mbatha’s] right to freedom of speech. The board and parliament need to be investigating this as well.”

Mbatha said he had contacted Communications Minister Ayanda Dlodlo about what happened with Motsweding FM.

“She promised to get back to me,” he said.

Icasa Judgment


* This article was updated on May 19 to include the SABC's response to the matter.

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