SABC vs M&G: Watchdog calls for cool heads

The latest in the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s fight against the BCCSA ruling on unfair reporting in favour of the Mail & Guardian has seen Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) warning on Monday that the issue could pose a serious threat to media freedom in South Africa.

MMA has added its voice to the call for action against the broadcaster in the face of a damning Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) ruling on unfair reporting.

Earlier this year, the BCCSA ruled the SABC had contravened the Broadcast Code of Conduct by making unsubstantiated claims of alleged corruption against the M&G, as well as ordering the state broadcaster to issue an apology.

M&G reporter Sam Sole was at the centre of allegations after reporting on tender irregularities involving high-profile businessman Robert Gumede.

The SABC has since unsuccessfully appealed the ruling within the BCCSA, and has now taken its challenge to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa).

The broadcaster has also threatened to withdraw from the BCCSA.

The MMA, which aims to promote the development of a free, fair, ethical and critical media culture in South Africa and the rest of the continent, released a press statement calling for Icasa to remain impartial and act accordingly in their judgment of an appeal lodged by the SABC against the ruling.

‘The whole system could collapse’
“MMA respects the right of the SABC to pursue all available legal avenues to their fullest extent. However, we urge the BCCSA not to yield to the pressure and threats of the SABC. The reported threat made by the SABC to withdraw from the BCCSA is, in MMA’s view, not only churlish but also has other consequences that threaten the credibility of the SABC as well as the BCCSA,” the statement read.

The MMA also warned the issue could morph into a watershed moment for press freedom in South Africa.

“There is far more at stake than whether the SABC will abide by the ruling of the BCCSA or not. If the BCCSA yields to the threats and pressure not only will it demonstrate an absence of principle, it will also bring the entire BCCSA into a crisis of credibility. A crisis I am not sure it and the National Association of Broadcasters along with it would be able to survive,” said MMA director William Bird in the statement.

M&G editor Nic Dawes echoed the worries of the MMA on June 17, arguing the SABC should heed the BCCSA call for an apology, lest they further damage the South African media’s self-regulating mechanism.

“The BCCSA is the creation of a self-regulatory deal agreed to by all broadcasters, captured in the regulations that flow from the Electronic Communications Act. If any broadcaster defies it, the whole system could collapse. The result could bring the regulation of broadcast content much more directly under the sway of Icasa councillors, who are appointed by Parliament,” Dawes wrote.

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