/ 10 June 2011

SABC goes to Icasa to fight ruling in M&G’s favour

The SABC is appealing a ruling by the BCCSA in favour of the <i>M&G</i> all the way to communications authority Icasa.

The SABC is appealing a ruling by the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) in favour of the Mail & Guardian all the way to communications authority Icasa, effectively accusing the regulator of bias or corruption.

The M&G on Monday received a letter from the BCCSA, which is a self-regulatory body, saying that the SABC intended to take the matter to Icasa’s complaints and compliance committee. It would also not broadcast the summary of the judgment, as ordered by the BCCSA.

Icasa’s committee can only review and overrule the BCCSA’s decision within very narrow confines: if there was some form of corruption, bias or malice, if the body was acting outside its jurisdiction, if there was gross irregularity in the proceedings and if it failed to comply with the rules of natural justice. “We’re extremely disappointed that the SABC has chosen not to accept two rulings by its own industry’s regulatory body,” said M&G editor-in-chief Nic Dawes.

The SABC and the Mail & Guardian locked horns on Thursday at a hearing before the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA). The hearing was held to address an M&G complaint against the SABC concerning a news report last year, in which businessman Robert Gumede accused investigative reporter Sam Sole of corruption and racism.

“It seems to me that this is a direct attack on the principle of self-regulation in the broadcast sector. “The SABC knows very well that it was wrong to broadcast the allegations it did without corroboration and without affording us the right of reply. We are considering our legal options.”

During the 7pm news on SABC3 in November 2010, the SABC broadcast Robert Gumede’s claims of corruption and racism on the part of investigative journalist Sam Sole. In the insert, Gumede claimed that Sole had received payments from a businessman, John Sterenborg, and that this had influenced the M&G‘s subsequent articles about Gumede. Sole was working for investigative magazine Noseweek at the time.

In a damning ruling the BCCSA said the claims were not substantiated and the M&G had not been allowed a proper right of reply. It ordered the SABC to broadcast a statement summarising the ruling during the 7pm news programme on SABC3 “on or before Wednesday March 30”, within the first 12 minutes of the broadcast. The commission considered this punishment harsher than the maximum R60 000 levy it could have imposed.

In April the SABC applied for leave to appeal the decision but the BCCSA dismissed the application. The SABC launched a second application for appeal, but on May 31 this application was also dismissed, and the SABC was given seven days to air the apology.

Lawyers acting on behalf of the SABC sent a letter to the BCCSA on Monday, saying the corporation had sought legal advice on the ruling and intended to take the matter up with the complaints committee. The SABC would therefore not be complying with the BCCSA’s order until the committee had made its decision.

“The grounds provided for review of a BCCSA ruling provided by Icasa are extremely narrow and I can only conclude the SABC is effectively accusing the regulator of bias or corruption. That would be an extraordinary claim,” said Dawes.

The SABC filed for leave to appeal on June 8. The M&G had until June 10 to respond. SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kanyago said they had the right to appeal the BCCSA decision under both the BCCSA rules and Icasa regulations.