Yesterday in an interview with Eusebius McKaiser on eNCA’s Meet the Mediashow, former acting SABC Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Jimi Matthews revealed some of the reasons that led to his immediate resignation from the SABC on 27 June 2016. In particular he stated that during his tenure as CEO, the SABC took a decision to “not give the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) coverage”. Although this decision was taken a while before the 2014 National and provincial elections, it had an effect on the amount of coverage given to the party by the public broadcaster during the election period.
Like in any other national and provincial as well as local government election period since 1994, Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) analysed how 50 media (including the SABC and its competitors) covered the 2014 national and provincial elections. What is very interesting is that the statement made by Jimi Matthews, supports what we found in our analysis. On average across the 50 media we analysed, the African National Congress (ANC) received 38% of the coverage while the Democratic Alliance (DA) got 25% and the EFF received 13%. However, if we compare some of SABC channels against some of their competitors it would appear that there is merit in what Matthews revealed in the graph below.
The graph shows the amount of coverage that was given to the EFF versus the ANC by the SABC and its competitors. What is clear is that all SABC platforms gave EFF very little coverage with the SABC 24 hour news channel giving EFF as little as 5% coverage while the ANC received more than 30% of the coverage on all SABC platforms with the SABC 24 hour news channel giving the ANC as much as 54%. That SAfm gave EFF 13% coverage compared to the 5% on the SABC 24 hour news channel however suggests that even though the SABC has taken questionable editorial decisions, there are some journalists within the institution that continue to try and do the best under the circumstances. What we see now with the suspended journalists, is that there is no editorial freedom whatsoever. This is critical in understanding just how far we have moved away from what should a public broadcaster, working in the public interest to a state broadcaster that serves interests of certain individuals within the ruling party.
While there may be no agreed amount of coverage political parties should receive during an election period, reflecting on the SABC decision not to cover the EFF in the period leading to the 2014 elections, Matthews said “we [the SABC] should have given them [EFF] a lot more coverage than what we did”. It would seem that during Matthews’ tenure there was a deliberate attempt to represent a perhaps skewed picture of the political landscape of the country. This goes against the fundamental purpose of public broadcasting, which is to report accurately, fairly and to represent, as fully as possible, the diversity of South Africa. It is such information that would be useful in helping the electorate make an informed decision on voting day.
For further information please contact:
Wellington Radu (MMA Head of Programmes)
+2711 788 1278
Thandi Smith (MMA Head of Policy Programme)
+2711 788 1278