So we heard on the weekend that the SABC has a new initiative to help protect children.  Sounds good and they have some good partners like Childline but surely the SABC should be ensuring they fulfil their mandate with regard to children PRIMARILY through programming?  Where is their commitment to local drama for children? How about having more children’s programming on television when children can actually watch it – instead of soaps – or at least as an alternative? (there are some good local programmes including a science programme and Thabang Thabong, but these are the exception.)  We also know – because we have done research – that the quality of their children’s news programme Kids News, has dropped dramatically – so much so that often the news programme for children will not have one single child’s voice!

In addition, despite the value of the new initiative we have three instances in the last few weeks where SABC actively contributed to undermining the rights of the very children they seek to protect.  In all instances children have been identified where it was clearly not in their best interest to do so and where their rights to dignity and privacy were violated.  They named and identified a child who had allegedly been abused in the television programme: Khumbul’ekhaya; then used children at a place of care – where children were abused – as part of an advert for how caring the folks at SABC 2 are.  Most recently they named and identified a young girl who had abandoned her baby and is being charged for murder on the news.  That was this morning.

Children constitute around 37% of South Africa’s population, the future of our country rests in how we treat and address children and their needs today. Children’s issues are key for the SABC in fulfilling its mandate but is this “pr” exercise and limited initiative really the best way of using their limited resources?  Again for us it shows their lack of coordinated vision and highlights the desperate need for a full policy review and public process in defining the SABC’s public mandate.  But don’t take my word for it – ask your children what they think and let us know!

By William Bird