SABC defends stance on Mbeki Aids documentary

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) wanted “issues of balance” addressed before agreeing to air a documentary on former president Thabo Mbeki and Aids deaths, it stated on Tuesday.

“The main weakness was the flagrant flouting of basic principles of fairness and balance, and the right of reply which insists on giving both sides an opportunity to counter allegations put to them,” SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said.

“Both former president Mbeki and former health minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang were not afforded a chance to counter the allegations against them.”

The SABC said it raised these issues with the producers of the film, Health-e news agency.

Health-e said the documentary looks at the legacy of Mbeki’s administration and as such did not ask the parties concerned to comment.

“We used clips of comments made by Mbeki in Parliament and quotes from Tshabalala-Msimang as well,” said Health-e managing editor Kerry Cullinan.

Beeld reported on Tuesday that the documentary would be screened on e.tv’s 3rd Degree after the SABC refused to air it.

“The programme was initially made for SABC’s Special Assignment, but the corporation apparently decided that the allegations against Mbeki were too controversial, and even unfounded,” Beeld reported.

“The film looks at the havoc that Aids denialism has wreaked,” said 3rd Degree executive producer Debora Patta.

“It’s a damning documentary. We offered Mbeki a chance to respond, and he declined.”

Health-e said the SABC did not refuse to air the documentary, but took too long to decide whether or not to use it.

“They never refused to air it,” said Cullinan. “They took a long time to decide whether they wanted it. They never gave us a reason why.”

Cullinan said financial concerns forced them to look elsewhere to broadcast the documentary.

The documentary, entitled The Price of Denial, investigates the impact of former president Mbeki’s government’s denial about HIV/Aids and treatment for ordinary South Africans living with HIV/Aids. It was produced by Anna-Maria Lombard, winner of the CNN African Journalist of the Year 2009 Award for HIV/Aids reporting.

It quotes a 2008 Harvard University study, led by Harvard-based Zimbabwean physician Dr Pride Chigwedere, which found that Mbeki and Tshabalala-Msimang were directly responsible for more than 330 000 Aids-related deaths during their tenure.

“At the peak of the epidemic, the government, going against consensus scientific opinion, argued that HIV was not the cause of Aids and that antiretroviral [ARV] drugs were not useful for patients and declined to accept freely donated nevirapine and grants from the Global Fund,” the study found.

However, Cullinan said the documentary was “about the consequences for normal people. It’s more about looking at the human stories of people who did not get HIV treatment.”

During an address in Rustenburg, Young Communist League leader Buti Manamela called for Mbeki and Tshabalala-Msimang to be charged with genocide.

In response, African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) leader Julius Malema said that the ANCYL would not allow Mbeki to be charged.

“Thabo Mbeki might have made mistakes, but we can never charge him. We must not charge one of our own,” Malema said at the gala dinner of the Pan African Youth Union at Emperor’s Palace in Boksburg on Monday.—Sapa

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