The ANC has said on Tuesday the public broadcaster, accused by opposition parties of pro-government bias ahead of local elections, was practicing censorship by not broadcasting violent anti-state protests.
Party chief whip Jackson Mthembu said the ANC had not been consulted on the policy change, a move he said showed “scant disregard for the governing party”.
The comments by Mthembu represent a U-turn and may point to schisms in the ANC, which in May welcomed the broadcast ban by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) as the “best decision”.
“When property is burnt, people of South Africa need to be shown those images, that is the ANC view. Because when you don’t show those images, that amounts to censorship,” Mthembu said in a televised media briefing.
“You can’t take that decision, in our view. That decision can be taken by the people of South Africa. Not anybody sitting in some cozy office to decide and be that arrogant and decide what it is that the people can see or not see,” he said.
SABC banned broadcast of violent protests, drawing wide criticism from civil society and political parties. At least seven senior journalists face disciplinary action for alleged misconduct after they raised concerns over growing censorship at the broadcaster. Journalists and civil society held protests at SABC offices this week decrying the recent developments at the SABC.
Mthembu, who is also communications sub-committee chair, took a jab at the SABC’s senior management, saying the public broadcaster kept “moving from one crisis to another”. “I can assure you that at the highest managerial level, we are lacking. That is why we keep moving from one crisis to another,” he said.
Mthembu said the SABC needed to bring in people with expertise and who had the know-how in terms of running a big corporation. He made examples of the public broadcaster’s former chief executive officer Peter Matlare, who he said ran the corporation like a smooth engine.
Mthembu said Minister of Communications Faith Muthambi needed to come up with a turnaround strategy that would include people who are knowledgeable in running a billion rand institution.
“We are not saying this dismissing the good quality we have at other levels… We have said to all our appointed ministers at communication, you need to assure that we have people who know how to run an institution as big as the SABC at the highest level. You can’t bring in any Tom, Dick and Harry to run such an elite institution.
“When you appoint at the highest level, please do so properly and follow the law. We are not happy about the expertise at the SABC,” he said.
Mthembu added that challenges that the SABC faces, including the ongoing court battles of its chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng, have “led to the collapse of the institution”. “We want people who are qualified to lead at the SABC.”
Mthembu said the ANC had also felt the consequences of negative corporate culture at the SABC which needed to end. The briefing comes after Motsoeneng’s decision to stop airing any violent protests. This decision has been widely criticised. Three journalists who disagreed with an instruction not to cover a Right2Know campaign protest against censorship at the SABC were later suspended. This followed the suspension of three other SABC employees. On Monday another SABC journalist was charged.
Hlaudi Motsoeneng, who has pushed through a number of policy changes at the broadcaster, is seen as close to President Jacob Zuma, whose popularity has been sagging against the backdrop of record unemployment and looming recession.