Hlaudi and SABC board refuse to end their ban on airing violent protests because regulatory body Icasa is 'not a court of law'

Journalists and freedom of speech activists protested against censorship at the SABC outside of the public broadcaster's headquarters in Johannesburg on July 1. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Journalists and freedom of speech activists protested against censorship at the SABC outside of the public broadcaster's headquarters in Johannesburg on July 1. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng on Monday said the broadcaster won’t retract its decision to ban the broadcasting of violent protests.

His announcement came hours after the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) ruled that the public broadcaster must withdraw its decision not to televise footage of violent protests and destruction of property during news broadcasts.

The defiant Motsoeneng said they – the SABC board and management – won’t be “apologetic” about something they believe in.

Briefing journalists at the SABC headquarters in Johannesburg, the broadcaster’s board and management said Icasa was not a court of law, but a chapter nine institution which only has the power to give recommendations.

“The Icasa recommends issues, Icasa also uses legal advisers in its recommending…we are the broadcaster we practice the broadcasting. That is why we are sticking to our story because our Constitution is also against violence, unrest and inciting such. This is our editorial stance,” SABC board member Aaron Tshidzuma said. 

Responding to the ANC’s criticism last week of the developments at the SABC, Tshidzuma said the SABC was a government company. 

“We are the broadcaster, a government company and not politicians. That issue was directed to the political head, the minister [Faith Muthambi], so they are handling that politically. We are appointed by Parliament… we do not deal with politicians but with our shareholder, who is the minister,” he said. 

Chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng earlier said people “were making noise” outside the SABC. He said the public broadcaster was profitable, performed well was “and stress free”. 

“I don’t have stress. When I’m under pressure I perform very well. All this hullabaloo does not affect me,” he said.

“We don’t understand why people want to dictate for SABC… We still believe that we are within the regulation,” he said.

Motsoeneng reiterated the broadcaster would not withdraw the decision, adding they will fight the issue in the Constitutional Court if they have to.

Earlier during the briefing, security guards were called in to escort a man out of the building after he started shouting “Down with Motsoeneng” while holding a placard which read “We reject censorship, propaganda and purges”.

SABC chairperson Mbulaheni Maguvhe said they have five days to engage their legal team and review the matter with relevant authorities.

Maghuve said they believe they made a moral and conscious decision, explaining that the ban was in place to protect children from being exposed to violent images.

A defiant Motsoeneng added that “no one would tell the SABC what to do”.

Motsoeneng and the board repeated past claims that all was well at the public broadcaster, despite widespread criticism of the its latest editorial policy banning footage of violent protests. The public broadcaster also came under fire for suspending eight senior reporters who questioned the controversial decision.

The ban drew criticism from civilians and political parties, who accused the SABC of censoring news ahead of the August 3 local government elections.

Icasa earlier on Monday recommended that the broadcaster withdraw the decision and comply with the request within seven days.

The matter was brought to Icasa by the Freedom of Expression Institute and SOS – the coalition supporting public broadcasting. The organisations said the ruling had a direct bearing on SABC staffers who were suspended for defying the ban.

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