FXI takes issue with finding on SABC 'blacklisting'

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s (Icasa) complaints committee erred in finding it has no jurisdiction on a complaint about the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s (SABC) “blacklist”, the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) said on Tuesday.

“We are of the view the [complaints compliance committee—CCC] has erred in a number of respects,” said the FXI, which lodged the complaint about the broadcaster not allowing certain political commentators and journalists to be used for analysis and opinion.

It also complained about the SABC not then making a report public after an inquiry into these allegations, and then not saying how the complaints had been addressed.

The judgment ruled that the CCC did not have jurisdiction over the SABC’s internal matters and editorial policy, and that only the board could release the report of the Sisulu inquiry into the claims of blacklisting.

Failing that, the CCC said, the communications minister could have asked for the report, and once it was tabled in Parliament, it would have been made public.

FXI acting executive director Melissa Moore said: “We view the decision as highly regrettable in that it does not give sufficient weight to the massive public interest in the matter.

“The CCC has failed to uphold the critical role played by the regulator in regulating broadcasting in the public interest and to ensure fairness, impartiality and the dissemination of unbiased information to the public.”

Moore said it was critical to note that the CCC finding “does not in any way exonerate the conduct of SABC in the blacklisting controversy”.

“The CCC did not find that the SABC did not blacklist certain political commentators.
It went so far as to state that blacklisting is, in itself, deplorable.”

Moore said by interpreting its powers narrowly, the CCC avoided pronouncing on a controversial issue that falls within their mandate and jurisdiction.

“We view this as an abdication of their duties in respect of the public broadcaster, which in itself is deplorable.”

She said the FXI was amazed by the CCC’s contention that the preparation of the programme does not affect the end product.

“If the ingredients are contaminated, it goes without saying that you cannot have an honest and fair end product for consumption by the public,” Moore said.

The FXI was also astounded by the CCC’s view that there is no legal duty on the SABC to provide the public with internal information or reports on “journalistic malpractice, or to inform the public on how it reacts to contraventions of its code”.

“What the CCC forgets is that the SABC’s ultimate shareholder is the public, and that the public has a constitutional right of access to all information held by the SABC.”

The FXI was considering its legal options on the ruling.—Sapa

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