RE:  The “Save Our SABC” Coalition welcomes the set down of FXI’s complaint to ICASA for hearing on 11 & 12 March 2009.

The “Save Our SABC Coalition” (“SOS”) welcomes the long awaited set down of the Freedom of Expression Institute’s (“FXI”) complaint against the SABC for hearing before the Complaints and Compliance Committee (“CCC”) of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (“ICASA”) during March 2009.

FXI’s complaint – which was lodged with ICASA during February 2007 – was prompted by the public broadcaster’s failure to implement the Sisulu Commission’s (“Commission”) recommendations. The Commission was appointed by the Chief Executive Officer of the SABC, Adv. Dali Mpofu, on 29 June 2006 to investigate inter alia allegations of blacklisting of political commentators in the SABC News and Current Affairs division.

The Commission’s findings included the following:

• That particular individuals had been excluded from news and current affairs programmes on grounds that were not objectively defensible;
• The SABC media statement of 20 June 2006 did not accurately reflect the factual position on blacklisting;
• A tendency on the part of Dr Zikalala to micro-manage decision-making, and that his interventions in relation to the excluded commentators were “counter-productive and destructive of good moral”.
• That the draft guidelines on the use of commentators, that had not yet been adopted by the Board, were inadequate and not in line with international best practice.

Although FXI’s complaint relied substantially on the Commission’s report it was held by the CCC on 25 November 2007 that FXI would not be permitted to rely on the Commission’s report as evidence of blacklisting. As a result of this finding FXI had to go back to the drawing board and provide evidence, other than the report, in support of its complaint. This was mainly due to the fact that the evidence presented to the Commission remained evidence of witnesses that the CCC did not hear and see itself.

The evidence required by the CCC has now been provided by the FXI and will be presented to the CCC in March 2009 for consideration, investigation and determination.

SOS shares FXI’s view that upon becoming aware of the Commission’s recommendations, the SABC Board should have taken corrective action immediately, and publicly announced what these steps were to be. This would have instilled public confidence in the public broadcaster’s commitment to making right the wrongs pointed out in the Commission’s report, and may have made FXI’s complaint unnecessary.

It is in our view imperative that the public broadcaster is called upon by ICASA to explain why it contradicted itself in terms of its response to the Commission’s report by stating to Parliament that it had accepted certain of the recommendations of the Commission, yet in its response to FXI’s complaint to ICASA it denied any wrongdoing on Dr Zikalala’s part. While blame could be placed on the previous board, the current board has a duty to clarify this matter once and for all as editorial integrity will not be restored until accountability is achieved on this matter.

The Coalition is of the view that the determination of the FXI’s complaint is a crucial step towards resolving the constant crisis at the public broadcaster. The determination of the issues in dispute will go a long way towards the creation of an independent, transparent and accountable public broadcaster whose mandate it is to serve the public and give effect to their right to freedom of expression.

Kate Skinner (082) 926-6404
William Bird (082) 887-1370
Patrick Craven (082) 821-7456
Jane Duncan (082) 786-3600

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