SABC made to eat humble pie after appeal bid fails

The Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) has dismissed an application by the SABC for leave to appeal against an order that it correct an unfair report about Mail & Guardian investigative journalist Sam Sole, saying an appeals tribunal would be unlikely to reach a different conclusion.

Last month the BCCSA tribunal found that the SABC had aired “unsubstantiated” claims of corruption and racism that businessman Robert Gumede had levelled against Sole and had failed to give the M&G, and Sole in particular, an adequate opportunity to reply.

The tribunal reprimanded the SABC and ordered the broadcaster to air its ruling during the first 12 minutes of its prime-time 7pm SABC3 television news bulletin.

The BCCSA’s order is considered a more serious punishment than the maximum R60 000 fine it can levy.

The SABC had not yet broadcast the ruling, pending its application for leave to appeal. On Tuesday tribunal chair Kobus van Rooyen dismissed the broadcaster’s application and again ordered it to broadcast the ruling, this time within seven days of his judgment.

The dispute relates to an insert aired during SABC3’s 7pm bulletin in November. Gumede claimed in an interview that Sole received corrupt payments from businessman John Sterenborg in 2001, while working for investigative magazine Noseweek.

Gumede claimed that Sterenborg had influenced Sole’s subsequent coverage in the M&G of Gumede’s business dealings and that Sole was “out to attack black people, to say that they are corrupt”.

The payment Gumede identified related to a R900 air ticket for which Sterenborg had reimbursed Sole, although the SABC insert did not reflect this explanation.

In his judgment this week, Van Rooyen found that:

  • The M&G’s “reply, as put forward on air by the SABC reporter, was ...
    insufficient in countering the accusation of a bribe”;


  • Gumede had referred to “other payments”, or bribes, but the SABC “broadcast this accusation — without substantiating evidence”; and


  • “The accusation of racial bias made by Gumede [against Sole] was a serious one [and] ... should also have been countered in the reply”.


M&G editor Nic Dawes said he was “delighted” by the outcome: “The ruling is further vindication of our contention that the SABC breached basic journalistic norms and ethical standards. This is one of the strongest sanctions the BCCSA has ever handed down. SABC TV and radio news are now under new editorial leadership and we hope they will treat this case as an object lesson in how not to do it.”

Sole said: “The vindication is welcomed.”

Both the SABC’s chief executive for news and current affairs, Phil Molefe, and SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago declined to comment, saying they had not yet seen Van Rooyen’s judgment.

The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, supported by M&G Media and the Open Society Foundation for South Africa, produced this story. All views are the centre’s. www.amabhungane.co.za.

Lionel Faull

Lionel Faull

Lionel is a reporter at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism, Amabhungane. Read more from Lionel Faull

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