The SABC must give to the masses what the masses deserve, unbiased coverage of news.

2016-05-30 06:18

Whilst still celebrating the decision by the South African Broadcasting Corporations of the 90 percent local music quota, the SABC throws another one at us, this time, a blunder, something not to take home and celebrate, in my opinion.

Social media went lit last week Thursday as soon as the SABC announced that it took a decision to “no longer broadcast footage of destruction of public property during protests”.

“The SABC as a public service broadcaster would like to condemn the burning of public institutions and had made a decision that it will not show footage of people burning public institutions like schools in any of its news bulletins with immediate effect”, the statement read.

A little later after reading the statement and going through South Africans’ angry tweets, I then tuned in my radio to find the SABC’s Chief Operating Officer, Mr Hlaudi Motsoeneng struggling to back-up this same decision he made himself.

And then I listened to the ANC’s spokesperson Mr Zizi Kodwa supporting the SABC’s decision. I must say I was disappointed. I was flabbergasted to say the least.

What I found fascinating on social media though is the following extract which I am not sure from which speech or document it was taken, which circulated immediately after the announcement by the SABC:

“After the second state of emergency was declared on 12 June 1986, the press was not allowed to report any incident relating to political unrest. By December eleven newspapers were prohibited from printing non-governmental accounts of the police or the army activities, this went on to cover boycotts and any information relating to civil unrest and detentions. The Government monitored publication of any information related to “unrest activities” and on 25 October 1985, the South African government banned all television and media coverage of demonstrations. At the same time, it stepped up its efforts to detain activists and prevent demonstrations”.

It is clear this extract does not in any way define or even come closer to defining the democracy we so enjoy in South Africa today.

South Africa cannot afford to address today’s challenges with yesterday’s wrongs.

Perhaps, let us briefly refresh our minds and also of the SABC leadership.

It is no news that the history of broadcasting in South Africa is a microcosm of the history of the country. Our history tells us, today’s generation, that public broadcasting became a powerful tool for apartheid policies and at some point was dubbed ‘His masters’ voice’ by anti-apartheid organisations.

It is common knowledge that the history of the South African Broadcasting system and that of the SABC forms the backdrop to crucial policy and regulatory considerations that define the new broadcasting dispensation. The recent decision taken by the SABC not to show footage of people burning public institutions is in total disagreement with the latter. The SABC’s decision is in support of the decisions of the past which anti-apartheid organization fought so much against. This is the same kind of decision, amongst others, which were implemented by the apartheid government which pushed anti-apartheid organisations to continue fighting for the transformation and liberation of the SABC.

The SABC has a legal obligation to inform, educate and ensure that all programming, including news bulletins are pluralistic and diverse. The SABC is supposed to be impartial and objective in its reporting of news to balance out any potential bias – it therefore cannot afford to be bias itself.

The SABC as a public broadcaster in our democracy holds the responsibility of providing South African citizens with the necessary information, without fear or favour, so that they can make informed decisions about any matter that concerns them or their country.

Freedom of information to the South African public and protection of diversity of opinion should remain major determinants of media policy in a democracy.

We must never allow policies to be determined by untested allegations or even assumptions for that matter.

In media studies, an underlying political economy proposition is that the economic and political control of the media determines the content and thus the ideological power of the media. We would know by now that ideological power is about having the means to form, direct and influence the thinking of people. In this case it is those on the ground whose thinking the SABC will wrongly shape and disadvantage. These are the masses that do not have the means or access to satellite or subscription television where they are able to switch between news bulletins in search of unbiased and balanced reporting the SABC denies them.

The SABC’s decision not to flight footage of infrastructure burning during protests is not even close to the solution the country seeks in addressing this matter.

The crux of the matter is in why people burn infrastructure. That is where the root of the problem is and that is where we need to focus our energies.

In conclusion through its statement, the SABC appeals to other South African broadcasters and the print media to stand in solidarity with the public broadcaster not to cover the violent protests that are on the rise and in turn destroying pubic institutions. How laughable!

Give to the masses what the masses deserve, unbiased coverage of news.

William Lebohang Somo is a Media Studies student at UNISA and writes in his personal capacity.

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