MMA and SOS note with concern that the SABC has finalised and is implementing its revised editorial policies without having completed the public participation process it had set out. Since 2011, SOS has been at the forefront of the demand for the revision of the editorial policies which are, now, five years overdue, underscoring the importance of ensuring thorough and transparent public participation wherein the views of the public are not taken seriously in name alone, but are substantively engaged and reflected in the final policies.

In January 2014, the SABC’s General Manager of Editorial Policy and Governance assured the people of South Africa that:

The revised policies will be released for public comment. Any changes that emerge as result of this round of engagements will be incorporated into the revised policies that will then follow the appropriate approval process before the process of implementation…

adding further that

Implementation will not be limited to the roll-out of the policies at the SABC, but will also include a public education element…

and that

All substantive issues raised at the Hearings and in the submissions will be addressed, if not in the policies themselves, in an accompanying document that will clarify the reasoning behind any changes made to the policies.

Instead of undertaking the promised public participation process, thereby creating a legitimate expectation on the stated terms of engagement in this singularly important process, the SABC has undermined the legitimacy of the process and the revised policies themselves. Not only did it fail tofulfil its commitment to the people of South Africa to contribute meaningfully to the revision of the editorial process, but went as far as seeking their approval and implementation under cover of darkness, and using the public’s first round of engagement to rubber-stamp compliance with its statutory requirement to ensure public participation in bad faith.

We have already seen how, under these illegitimately revised editorial policies in which upward referral of editorial decisions is now mandatory, engagement with topical issues of significant public interest such as alleged State capture has been censored from discussion on our airwaves.

Being a public institution tasked with the singularly important responsibility of servicing the information needs of the people of South Africa and bringing them in dialogue with one another, the SABC is doubly enjoined to operate in good faith and be an example of democracy in a pluralistic society in action. Instead, it continues to undermine democratic participation in its own governance and increasingly operates as a State broadcaster like we had under the erstwhile apartheid government.

Inasmuch as the rot of State capture of our public broadcaster has set in, and the assault on its independence and credibility continues through the introduction of anti-democratic policy and legislation like the Broadcasting Amendment Bill, SOS continues to fight for an independent and publicly accountable national public broadcaster that puts the people before the powerful. And we call on all the people of South Africa to join us as we demand an SABC that works.

We, therefore, call on the SABC Board to:

  • report on the public participation process undertaken and whether it complied with both the commitments it made, as well as all relevant statutory and policy requirements;
  • direct the suspension and withdrawal of these illegitimately passed editorial policies until the full public participation process committed to is concluded; and
  • direct the publication of all submissions made in respect of the editorial review process, together with the promised explanatory memorandum outlining the rationale for each revision made to the editorial policies.

We call on ICASA:

  • to reject the registration of these editorial policies in compliance with the SABC’s license conditions until the public participation process is concluded; and
  • take remedial measures against the SABC for both failing to revise the editorial policies within their seven-year implementation cycle, as well as failing to undertake a full and transparent public participation process in good faith.

Further, we call on Parliament to:

  • Summon the SABC to account for its failure to live up to its constitutional and statutory responsibility of ensuring full and transparent public participation in the development of the revised editorial policies; and
  • Take necessary remedial action against the SABC for failing to discharge its responsibility, in this regard, in good faith.

About SOS: The SOS Coalition represents a broad spectrum of civil society stakeholders committed to the broadcasting of quality, diverse, citizen-orientated public-interest programming aligned to the goals of the South African Constitution. The Coalition includes a number of trade union federations including COSATU and FEDUSA, a number of independent unions including BEMAWU and MWASA; independent film and TV production sector organisations including the South African Screen Federation (SASFED); a host of NGOs and CBOs including the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI), Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), SECTION27 and a number of academics and freedom of expression activists.

About MMA: Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) started in 1993 and is a non-profit organisation that aims to promote democracy and a culture where media and the powerful respect human rights and encourage a just and fair society.

For more information, contact:

William Bird (MMA): 082 887 1370

Sekoetlane Phamodi (SOS): 076 084 8077