SABC ‘censorship’ policy officially outlawed

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The SABC must revert to its 2004 editorial policy, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa has ruled.

Icasa’s council has officially ratified a recommendation made by its complaints and compliance committee after a hearing in December last year.

The SOS Coalition and Media Monitoring Africa had brought the complaint against the SABC’s revised editorial policy of 2015, adopted in January 2016, because of the broadcaster’s decision that it would no longer show footage of the violent protests sweeping the country.

The SABC is obliged to review its editorial policy every five years. The 2016 revision effectively, says SOS, allowed former SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng to make editorial decisions in newsrooms.

The revisions led to the new editorial guidelines being referred to as a “censorship policy”.

Icasa’s ruling states that the SABC’s policy falls foul of section 6 (6) of the Broadcasting Act No 4 of 1999 which compels the broadcaster to engage with the public about editorial changes and then publish the proposed revisions for public comment.

“We did engage with the public. In 2014, 2015 we did a roadshow across the country,” said SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago.

At the time, the SABC said they met with 30 organisations and held 17 public hearings.

“The only thing we didn’t do is publish the proposed changes. This will be a matter that the interim board will have to deal with when their term starts. Perhaps all they will want to do is publish the changes, we will see.”

The SOS Coalition released a statement today welcoming the ruling.

“When the SABC last reviewed its editorial policy in 2004, a draft editorial policy was released for public consultation.

"The comments provided in those intensive engagements and submissions were then incorporated into the new revisions of the policy,” said SOS coordinator Duduetsang Makuse.

“The intentional exclusion of public comment [in 2016] allowed the sanctioning of certain amendments, which have had grave implications for the quality of journalism and news coverage at the public broadcaster.”

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