Icasa orders the SABC to stop its ban on violent protests – or risk losing its broadcasting licence

Journalists and freedom of speech activists protested against censorship at the SABC outside of the broadcaster's main offices on July 1, 2016. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Journalists and freedom of speech activists protested against censorship at the SABC outside of the broadcaster's main offices on July 1, 2016. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) has ordered the SABC to withdraw its decision to ban footage of violent protests and destruction of property in its news broadcasts. 

Icasa’s acting chairperson Rubben Mohlaloga reportedly said that the SABC had seven days to confirm in writing that it has reversed its editorial decision or risk having its broadcasting licence revoked.

Lobby groups including Media Monitoring Africa, the SOS Support Public Broadcasting Coalition and the Freedom of Expression Institute had lodged a complaint with Icasa’s complaints and compliance committee, challenging the validity of the SABC’s decision to ban protest visuals. The lobby groups were also unhappy with the changes in policy giving SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng final say over editorial matters.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) welcomed Icasa’s decision and said in a statement that “the ruling marks the beginning in fixing the mess created by ANC-appointed Hlaudi Motsoeneng who has been unrelenting in his crusade to turn the SABC into an output station for the ANC’s sunshine news.”

Civil rights group, the Rights2Know (R2K) campaign, also welcomed Icasa’s ruling. Micah Reddy‚ R2K’s media freedom organiser‚ speaking to Mail & Guardian on Monday said Icasa’s decision only solves part of the problem at the public broadcaster. “There was only one way Icasa could rule, and we say Hlaudi should realise it is time to go, he’s running SABC to the ground,” said Reddy.

The ban on covering violent protests was questioned by a number of senior journalists, whereafter the SABC sought to pursue disciplinary action against those who dissented. Last week, the SABC board reportedly denied that the ban was a policy position, and called it an “editorial decision”. The public broadcaster has since postponed the disciplinary action against the journalists “indefinitely”.

Last week, ANC’s communications subcommittee head Jackson Mthembu strongly condemned the censorship at the public broadcaster, lambasting the management at SABC for putting a lid on press freedom. Mthembu told the Business Day on Sunday that Communications Minister Faith Muthambi had been summoned to Luthuli House to account for what has been happening at the public broadcaster.

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