/ 5 September 2007

SABC slammed over Sanef withdrawal

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) had demonstrated nothing but arrogance in pulling out of the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) over reports about Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, said the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) on Wednesday.

The SABC’s ”drastic position” was a clear departure from the mainstream media and seemed to suggest it was ”distancing itself from being a media house”, Misa-South Africa spokesperson Dumisani Nyalunga said in a statement.

”Misa-SA would have expected the SABC to act as a champion and loyalist of press freedom and media freedom in general,” he said.

While Misa-SA expressed ”disbelief” at the ”strongly worded” letter in which the SABC announced on Friday that it was breaking ties with Sanef, it said the move might be ”a blessing in disguise”.

The national broadcaster reportedly said that it would no longer stand idle ”whilst we are being made a whipping boy and a scapegoat by the profit-driven media”.

”Even less are we prepared to associate with the enemies of our freedom and our people.

”We cannot remain quiet while our mothers and our democratically chosen leaders are stripped naked for the sole reason of selling newspapers.”

Misa-SA said content gave the impression that the SABC was playing the role of Tshabalala-Msimang’s spokesperson.

It pointed out that while the SABC claimed to be a ”friend of the people”, it was itself guilty of the ”deterioration of journalistic ethics” it was railing against — a case in point being the blacklisting saga.

”[The] SABC position is nothing but a double standard and demonstrates clear selective condemnation,” said Nyalunga.

Misa-SA did not understand why the SABC had taken offence on this occasion when it had not publicly done so over similar, previous cases involving high-profile politicians.

In Misa-SA’s view, Sanef was supporting the Sunday Times, not to connive with the newspaper, but to ”uphold and safeguard the values and principles of freedom of expression and media freedom”.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions has also accused the SABC of a ”lack of consistency” in its reaction.

”The corporation is right to condemn bad journalism but it must be done even-handedly, regardless of whom the victim is,” spokesperson Patrick Craven said earlier this week.

The South African National Civic Organisation praised the SABC’s decision as ”brave and patriotic”.

The Democratic Alliance said that in withdrawing, the SABC had abandoned ”all pretence at professionalism and impartiality”.

Sanef has since asked for a meeting with the SABC, but it is not known when this will take place.

Sanef’s funding is largely derived from corporate donations and annual contributions by major media houses, including the SABC. — Sapa