Talk show gag: SABC has some explaining to do

The SABC is to hold a press conference on Wednesday afternoon to explain why it had on Tuesday night prevented three journalists from participating in a discussion on how the media would cover the ANC's elective conference in Manguang.

The journalists, Sam Mkokeli, political editor from Business Day, Sunday Times' political editor S'thembiso Msomi and Financial Times bureau editor Andrew England, had been scheduled to speak on Sakina Kamwendo's Metro FM talk show. They were informed that they would no longer be appearing as guests minutes before the show was meant to air.

According to Mkokeli, Kamwendo told the reporters she was no longer able to host them on her show as "higher powers" had instructed her not to. No further explanation was offered as to why they were not allowed to speak and all three journalists left.

Kamwedo, who according to Mkokeli was struggling to hold back tears, returned to the studio and held an open line instead.

Julie Reid, media studies lecturer at the University of South Africa, said the incident had made a mockery of freedom of expression and that it was high time the SABC became more transparent and accountable to the public.

"It's important that the press and the public begins demanding more accountability from the SABC. The SABC needs to tell us exactly what happened. We need to know who these higher powers are and who gave the order. Whoever gave the order needs to explain him or herself," she said.

'Bizarre'
William Bird, executive director of Media Monitoring Africa, described the incident as "bizarre" and said that regardless of whether the incident was the result of political interference, fear, or self-censorship, the broadcaster needed to explain itself.

"The arbitrariness of those sorts of decisions, and the fact that they don't seem to have any logical framework and are not backed up by any procedure is concerning," he said.

"They must be able to give us valid coherent arguments for their decisions."

Mkokeli said he believed the broadcaster's attempt to prevent discussion of the issue was "stupid" and that it had "got itself into an unnecessary controversy".

"We're not going to go on air and say things that are libelous. What we'll be saying are things that we're [already] writing in the paper.

A trail of obfuscation
SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago declined to speak about the incident on Wednesday morning.

"We're having a press conference at 1pm at the SABC. We will then issue a press statement," he said.

This is not the first time Kamwendo has been instructed to drop a guest from her show at the last minute. In September, Friends of the Youth League claimed that management at the SABC instructed Kamwendo to cancel a planned interview with expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema. At the time the SABC denied there was a political reason behind the incident.

The SABC has a history of editorial interference in its current affairs programmes. In the past few months it pulled an advert promoting the fast food outlet the Fish & Chips Co that parodied President Jacob Zuma and his family, and also instructed reporters not to refer to Zuma's home in Nkandla as a "compound", "homestead" or "any such term".

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