Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications on Tuesday decided not to call for an inquiry into the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) after hearing a defiant defence from Communications Minister Faith Muthambi and the broadcaster’s top management on the SABC’s perfomance and its controversial ban on visuals of violence.
Chairperson Humphrey Maxegwana, from the ANC, concluded the three-hour meeting by saying it was clear there was a decision “not to have an inquiry”, after several MPs from the party argued against it.
Muthambi told the committee the ban, on which the broadcaster backtracked in the face of a court challenge from the Helen Suzman Foundation last month, was in fact in line with the constitution.
Muthambi said the SABC’s mandate in law trod a line between respecting freedom of expression and ensuring “nation building and cohesion”. It did not include becoming complicit in “propaganda of war”, she added, and went on to criticise the media for portraying the broadcaster in a negative light.
The ban, and the firing of senior journalists who objected to it, was also defended by controversial chief operations officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng, who said every publisher had a right to set its own editorial policy and showing blood and people burning to death was not something the SABC could do in good conscience.
“As a responsible broadcaster, we need to play around those visuals. If a school room is burning we do not know who the people there are … Are you saying we should show the physicality of people burning. If people are stabbing each other, should we show the blood?”
He insisted: “It is our job to can stories we don’t like.”
Hlaudi dismissed calls from the opposition for a full parliamentary inquiry into the running of the SABC, saying the opposition members of the committee lacked honour, and in fact the SABC deserved to be commended for its coverage of the elections. To the DA’s description of the state of affairs at the SABC as “chaotic”, he retorted that official opposition was trying to redefine success as failure.
The Freedom Front Plus’s Pieter Mulder told the committee that he called in to a current affairs radio show on a channel run by the SABC and was told that he was not allowed to participate because of his party affiliation. The same happened to his colleague Pieter Groenewald before the August 3 vote, he added.
Motsoeneng responded that he had been relieved to see that there were “at least some black people” at the FF Plus’s political events, and that the party should be mindful that it was given more air time on Radio Sonder Grense (RSG) than others, notably the Economic Freedom Front, because the station was among those that had not been transformed.
“We are going to zoom in on those radio stations and transform RSG,” he said.
Motsoeneng also clashed with Mulder after he responded to questions about the sacking of senior reporters at the SABC for challenging editorial policy, by appearing to equate their case with those of staffers fired en masse for medical aid fraud.
He said the SABC would proceed undeterred with disciplinary action where it felt it was needed.
“We are not going to be stopped by the noise.”
DA MP Phumzile van Damme said it was clear that the ANC majority on the committee had received “a call from Luthuli House” to backtrack on the readiness it showed a week ago to proceed with an inquiry into the SABC.
– African News Agency (ANA)