SABC pulls 'Big Debate' off air at last minute

The SABC has pulled talk show "The Big Debate" off air, just hours before it was due to be screened. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

The SABC has pulled talk show "The Big Debate" off air, just hours before it was due to be screened. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

The SABC's popular talk show The Big Debate has been pulled off air at the 11th hour, apparently by the national broadcaster's controversial chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

The show's creators were informed on Thursday, hours before it was due to be screened, that the acclaimed town hall debate show has been dropped.

The Big Debate host Siki Mgabadeli was outraged by the decision to cancel the show after the first two episodes had already been recorded.

"We informed the SABC that the first episode was ready for viewing. They kept saying we'll get back to you – but didn't," Mgabadeli told the Mail & Guardian.

"Then we noticed the repeats of the show on a Saturday morning stopped airing. It was surprising but we first thought it was just a scheduling problem.

"Then we received an email a few days ago from SABC2 commissioning editor Nhlanhla Hlongwane, saying they couldn't give us a date for the screening because the programme will not be aired.
No explanation was given. We were told informally that the instruction came from Motsoeneng. Since then we've requested meetings with the SABC but we've had no feedback."

'Topics are not a surprise'
The Big Debate is described on its website as a "show that travels the length and breadth of South Africa, holding our leaders to account and giving a voice to ordinary residents and communities".

"I don't think it was about the content of the show because they wouldn't have seen the content for the new season," said Mgabadeli.

"The topics are not a surprise to the SABC. They know what the show is about."

"We've always had a good response to the show. We've even had ministers like Aaron Motsoeledi and Enver Surty say it's a great show. We've had letters from all over the world congratulating us," said Mgabadeli.

"We are funded by the Foundation for Human Rights, so it's their money that has been spent. We'll continue shooting. If we can't get an answer from the SABC and if the show cannot be aired, then we will reconsider our position."

When asked to comment, Motsoeneng referred the M&G to the SABC's head of group communications, Kaizer Kganyago. Kganyago was not available at the time of publishing.

Adrian Ephraim

Adrian Ephraim

Adrian Ephraim is the Mail & Guardian Online news editor. He is a former sports writer and newspaper executive who has been converted to the ways of the hashtag and hyperlink. He is a news addict who longs for the day when it can be delivered intravenously. Political satire is what he lives for - look out for his memes. The three loves of Adrian's life include his masterchef wife, his son who is a Michael Jackson impersonator and Arsenal. Read more from Adrian Ephraim

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