SABC bans ‘Pay back the money’ visuals

Irate journalists say they have been barred from using the EFF footage in TV news bulletins

The SABC has banned the use of the footage of Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MPs chanting “Pay back the money” at President Jacob Zuma during a tumultuous question-and-answer session in Parliament in August.

Senior SABC journalists have told City Press that they have been barred from using the visuals when they write stories about the EFF for TV news.

This represents the second such instruction after the general manager of radio, Leuba Ramakgolo, sent an email to SABC staff members last month informing them that they needed permission before bringing any political guests on to news platforms.

The SABC said at the time that this was to make sure content such as the “vulgar language” in Parliament was not aired. That decision was also criticised by staff members.

“How are people supposed to work? Do they know how many stations there are at the SABC?” asked a senior staffer.

But the public broadcaster is denying that there is a ban on the parliamentary footage, saying editorial decisions are taken on a story-to-story basis and editors are within their rights to make a call on what angle to take or which visuals to use.

City Press understands that the ban only applies to TV bulletins.

The SABC’s parliamentary journalists say the verbal instruction was issued over the past seven days, without any reason.

According to sources, one SABC TV news editor berated a parliamentary journalist this week for using the visuals in the story about the Western Cape High Court’s ruling on the suspension of EFF MPs, before editing the footage out of the bulletin that was aired on Tuesday night.

The journalists, who did not want to be named, said they were deeply concerned about what appears to be censorship and the difficulty of telling TV stories without providing context for viewers.

“The visuals contextualise why the EFF is going to the Constitutional Court, for instance. We will be doing stories in the build-up to the state of the nation address about the tensions in Parliament. How do you tell the stories without those visuals because everything relates to that day, relates to that footage?” asked a senior journalist.

When City Press contacted the parliamentary journalist who worked on the high court story this week, he said he could neither confirm nor deny that such an instruction was directly issued to him, but referred the newspaper to SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago for comment.

Kganyago dismissed the allegation that the SABC had banned the EFF footage, saying the public broadcaster never banned anything and insisting that all it did was to apply editorial policy to any story, like any other news agency.

He cautioned that the SABC had the right to editorial independence and that people needed to respect that.

Kganyago explained that stories went through processes where an editorial decision was made on every story.

“Why do people want to make an exception with the SABC, because that is the editor’s decision?

“I don’t understand why some journalists at the SABC think they work independently of their bosses when it comes to editorial decisions. This is what happens at any news agency,” he said.

Kganyago also denied knowing anything about the alleged instruction from one of the editors to parliamentary reporters.

“People always come and say: ‘This is the instruction.’ People say something, then people interpret it the way they want to interpret it.”

Kganyago said stories, angles and visuals were all discussed in diary meetings, which were not only attended by senior management, but also journalists, including those who worked in the provinces.

“They discuss it, [and] say, ‘This angle was covered’, ‘These visuals have been used before’, ‘Why not use this?’ or ‘These visuals have been overused’.”

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