Cameraman blamed in SABC bias probe

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) has been effectively cleared by two commissioners of bias and wrongdoing over the Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka “booing” incident—because it did not get the footage from the freelance cameraman.

In a statement released by SABC CEO Dali Mpofu on Monday, he said commissioners Tlharesang Mkhwanazi—a member of the Pretoria Society of Advocates and a commissioner of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa—and Professor Guy Berger, head of the Rhodes University department of journalism, found that the freelance cameraperson,

Sanjay Singh, had not included footage of the deputy president being heckled.

Rival carried the footage and then showed that the SABC cameraman had been present at the event addressed by the then newly appointed deputy president.

The commissioners found the SABC did not receive “the relevant footage on the day of the story”, August 9, from the cameraman.

The commissioners were asked to investigate the alleged failure of the SABC television news to show an incident—which Mpofu described variously as speculation and “even a fair amount of self-serving pseudo-analysis”—of Mlambo-Ngcuka allegedly been booed at a National Women’s Day rally at Utrecht in KwaZulu-Natal.

Mpofu noted that “a rival network” reported members of the crowd shouting “Zuma, Zuma”—apparently in support of Mlambo-Ngcuka’s predecessor, Jacob Zuma, who was axed by President Thabo Mbeki in June.

Mpofu, who reported that “according to some accounts the deputy president was forced off the stage”, said the commissioners found that Singh’s contract “did not specify news judgement as a requirement of his performance”.

Asked whether anyone acting on behalf of the public broadcaster caused the failure to capture the footage of the alleged incident, the commissioners found Singh failed to send the relevant section “or even to alert his principals about it”.

There was no question that TV editors at SABC could even evaluate the issue, they found.

In response to the question if any member of the SABC—the state broadcaster—misled the organisation in relation to the incident, the commissioners found that the SABC does not have a policy to broadcast government leaders “without due regard to the newsworthiness of their stories”.

“Neither did we find any policy to spare such leaders from embarrassment by concealing evidence of displays of opposition,” the commissioners found.
They said also that “notwithstanding the non-broadcast of the incident on SABC TV news, regard should be had to the fact that the incident was duly reported in several SABC radio stories, which were issued on August 9”.

The commissioners acknowledged: “This issue may require further probing. Participants in this commission were there on a voluntary basis and accordingly were not required to speak under oath, face cross-questioning or deal in depth with evidence such as telephone records.”

Mpofu said the reason for the non-broadcast was “clearly a decision rightly or wrongly taken by the freelance cameraman, Mr Sanjay Singh, who covered the event on behalf of the SABC, about the relative importance of this occurrence in relation to the events of that day in Utrecht”.—I-Net Bridge

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