Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

SABC political bias will backfire

During the Zimbabwean elections last year, the country's state broadcaster, the ZBC, flighted the ruling party's inflammatory adverts. Newscasters and reporters prefixed the names of Zanu-PF leaders with the title "comrade", whereas the coverage of opposition leaders was shabby and distorted.

The SABC is far better than its Zimbabwean counterpart. It has credible men and women who just want to practise professional, ethical – journalism. They want to present news that is fair, balanced and truthful. But their efforts are hindered by those on the board and in management who see the SABC as ZBC-like – a mouthpiece of the ruling party. They don't see their role as a buffer between politicians and journalists, or the protectors of the latter. They see their role as cheerleaders of the ruling party.

The chairperson of the board, Zandile Ellen Tshabalala, and her predecessor, Khanyi Mkhonza, tacitly threatened journalists by invoking the apartheid-era National Key Points Act. Acting chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng has apparently commandeered the newsroom, telling editors and journalists what and what not to put out. A Democratic Alliance advert was pulled for irrational political reasons.

These board members and executives have taken over where their predecessors left off.  They are more loyal to politicians than to the public, a direct dereliction of their fiduciary duty. Like their predecessors, they will soon be out, but will leave behind much damage to the broadcaster's credibility.

Appointing good executives and board members did not help. They were forced out for steering the broadcaster in the right direction.

The problem is the current structure of the public broadcaster. Board members and the chief executive serve at the pleasure of politicians, and thus feel pressure to interfere. It was worse under the National Party, but the ANC has also tasted and enjoyed the power of controlling the broadcaster.

Unless the structure changes completely (even though there is no perfect structure), there is no guarantee that this vicious cycle will not continue after the current ruling party. But these executives and board members, and the leaders of the ANC, are naive not to realise that they will benefit from good ­journalism way beyond their term of office.

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

Zondo commission: 10 unanswered questions

Zuma went to jail rather than testify. Some who did told blatant lies. Who decided Cabinet appointments and how much money was carried out of Saxonwold?

Local elections: Water tops the agenda in Limpopo’s dry villages

People in the Fetakgomo Tubatse local municipality, who have to collect water from Motse River, are backing independent candidates because they’re tired of parties’ election promises

More top stories

Conservation boosts cattle farmers

By adopting sound grazing practices livestock owners get access to markets in a foot-and-mouth disease red zone near the Kruger National Park

COP26 touted to resolve long standing issues on climate debt

Only 16% of losses in South Africa from weather-related disasters in the past four decades were covered by insurers, leaving governments and communities unable to build back

Most climate science is written by white men

In deciding how the world responds to the climate crisis, policymakers rely on research that tends to be written predominantly by men in the Global North

Zondo commission: 10 unanswered questions

Zuma went to jail rather than testify. Some who did told blatant lies. Who decided Cabinet appointments and how much money was carried out of Saxonwold?

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…