We welcome the ruling by ICASA that the SABC’s decision to ban reporting public protest was in violation of the Broadcasting Amendment Act as a great victory.  We also note the subsequent press conference by the SABC Board, including the Chair and the SABC COO.  It was clear that theirs was an attempt to defile the ruling, common sense and logic.  While it is always of great concern when people in authority effectively defecate on our constitution their arguments are so blatantly puerile and misleading as not to bear further scrutiny. Consider this, “the reason they decided to give the EFF minimal coverage was that they were not a registered political party during the time leading up to the 2014 elections” SABC Chair. Really? Yet there we see EFF in parliament, having been voted in during the 2014 elections.

To be clear, ICASA ruled that:

(i) The SABC resolution in its present matter amounts, at its core, to a categorical blocking of the public’s right to information in conflict with the Broadcasting Act which places a duty on the SABC to keep the public informed in the public interest. The resolution is in conflict with the Broadcasting Act 1999 read with section 39(2) and 16(1)(a) and (b) of the Constitution. It is also in conflict with the licence conditions of the SABC.

(j) Our conclusion is that the SABC has acted outside its powers in taking the decision as published in the 26 May statement. Ultimately, one of the core values in terms of our Constitution is legality and the decision of the SABC did not comply with this central constitutional value.

The complaint arose in response to the decision taken by the SABC to ban coverage of public protests. The original complaint and subsequent documents can be found here.

What the ruling shows is that the decision wasn’t only illegal but also a clear form of censorship.  While this may have been plain for all to see, the critical issue now is that it must result in real change at the SABC. For far too long we have been fed platitudes and lies by those in power around the SABC, including the SABC board and senior management. We will fight the apartheid tendency to lie to people and hope that spinning nonsense will fool them.  Instead we will demand accountability, from the SABC senior management, the SABC Board Parliament Portfolio Committee on Communication.  But that is not all, we also need to demand accountability from those who support the SABC in its current form, and we need to ask Advertisers how they feel about their brand being associated with censorship and the undermining of our media freedom and constitution.

We also note that this is the first step in an ongoing battle for our public broadcaster.  Instead of the SABC employees who have been suspended being reinstated, we have seen their hearings delayed with no date for a future hearing set.  We know of too many other instances of top down editorial commands in clear violation of the SABC policy – and we know that a culture of self censorship and fear is being encouraged and festers in some areas of the SABC.

In a just world the SABC would have responded with dignity and humility, acknowledged their wrong doing and committed themselves to the highest standards of ethical journalism. Instead we have seen the ruling met with arrogance and dismissal, an affront to the institutions of our democracy and the intelligence of every person in South Africa.  They might be smug now, but will be less so, when they lose – as inevitably, they will, as is the lesson of all tyrants the world over.

The real question therefore is who is allowing, enabling and supporting the actions of those seeking to destroy our democracy?  It is on their watch that this is all happening and it at their door that we will and must lay the blame and demand accountability.

You can access the full ICASA CCC ruling transript below


For more information contact:

William Bird (MMA Director)

williamb@mma.org.za / +2711 788 1278

Thandi Smith (MMA Head of Policy Programme)

thandis@mma.org.za / +2711 788 1278