SABC questions Mthembu’s “lack of leadership” comments

BY CHARL BOSCH - JULY 6, 2016

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) has reportedly taken aim at the African National Congress (ANC) after its Chief Whip, Jackson Mthembu, attributed a lack of leadership to the crisis facing the broadcaster.

Speaking at a media briefing at Luthuli House on Tuesday, Mthembu said recent developments, including the resignation of Acting CEO Jimi Matthews and suspension of a number of journalists opposed to the policy change drawn-up by controversial Chief Operations Officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng, not only undermines the right to freedom of speech, but that allegations of the ruling party supporting the move was incorrect.

“We have jealously guarded the right to freedom of expression and have never hesitated to speak in favor of media freedom wherever and whenever allegations of media censorship of any kind were raised,” Mthembu said.

“Any policy changes or editorial decisions by the SABC that in anyway limit these freedoms can never be sanctioned by the ANC. We stand opposed to any actions that infringe on our people’s rights to hear and see what they want to hear and see [and any] infringement of journalists’ rights to practice their craft”.

Taking aim at the SABC’s refusal to show violent protests on television, Mthembu stated that while the ruling party opposes the showing of property being damaged by force, it was never consulted on the decision, before hitting out claims it was interfering with the way the broadcaster is being managed.

“To date, no evidence has been produced to substantiate such claims. The latest controversy surrounding editorial practices at the SABC, unfortunately being made by an individual who has fallen out of favour with his employer, have also regretfully once again drawn the ANC into the fray,” he said.

“It is the considered view of the ANC that the various crises engulfing the SABC are a consequence of a lack of leadership at the institution. The extremely unfortunate developments at the public broadcaster cannot be allowed to continue any further and can definitely not continue in the name of the African National Congress”.

Mthembu said the party would consult with Communications Minister Faith Muthambi to discuss the matter, as well as calling for an urgent enquiry into the “very serious allegations being made that tarnish the image of the ANC in respect of the current developments at the SABC”.

In a statement, SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said the decision to ban scenes with violence was taken from an editorial standpoint and does not reflect a change in policy.

“The decision in this context [makes it] clear that what the code seeks to do is encourage broadcasters not to glamorise violence and/or broadcast material that will encourage violence," Kganyago said.

“It should be noted that the decision is not to censor any violent protests [but to] not glamorise the act of burning public property. The aftermath of the burnt property will however be shown”.

Democratic Alliance (DA) Federal Chairperson James Selfe has meanwhile described Mthembu’s comments as nothing but “a desperate attempt to try and salvage their deployee, Hlaudi Motsoeneng”.

“If the ANC really want to be taken seriously, they would demand that Mr Motsoeneng be fired before even being made permanent. The truth is that the ANC simply cannot be trusted. If the ANC was serious they would have already called for Mr Motsoeneng to be removed”.