Hawks investigating SABC 'protest policy', says Icasa

Hlaudi Motsoeneng denied in a press briefing last year that the SABC was censoring its news programmes. (David Harrison, M&G)

Hlaudi Motsoeneng denied in a press briefing last year that the SABC was censoring its news programmes. (David Harrison, M&G)

The Hawks are investigating complaints that the SABC has not abided by its ruling to lift the ban on airing protest footage, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) said on Tuesday.

A criminal charge it laid at the Bramley police station on November 28 had been escalated to the Hawks, Icasa councillor Nomvuyiso Batyi told Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications on Tuesday.

They had not yet received a case number from the Hawks.

Icasa has been battling since July last year to get the SABC to provide proof that it would abide by its ruling to withdraw the ban.

Batyi said the SABC’s defence was that it never actually implemented the May 26 protest policy, but only announced it.

ANC MP Mondli Gungubele said it would not help the broadcaster if the Hawks only finished its investigation in 2019. He asked Icasa whether it was free and able to execute its mandate.

Democratic Alliance MP Phumzile van Damme congratulated Icasa for taking action, but agreed with Gungubele that Icasa could “show more teeth”.

Batyi said the Icasa Act allows the authority to lay criminal charges to enforce its orders.

“We cannot take the law into our own hands. We have to go to the Hawks [police],” she said.

Hawks spokesperson Hangwani Mulaudzi was not immediately available for comment at the time of publication.

The maximum fine a person or entity that violates an Icasa order can receive is R1-million, or one year in jail.

Icasa had so far investigated the SABC as an organisation. No monetary fine had been considered, as the protest policy had resulted in no financial loss or gain.

Congress of the People MP William Madisha said it would help Parliament and Icasa to investigate “criminal” individuals.

On May 26 last year, the SABC banned the airing of footage of violent protests on its television stations. Icasa held public hearings about the decision. On July 11, it instructed the SABC to reverse its decision.

Former SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng said at a press briefing later: “No one is going to tell us what to do” and “I don’t know what is SABC censoring”.

Batyi said the SABC never provided any proof of its withdrawal of the policy, despite agreeing to abide by Icasa’s order on July 20.

She said they followed up with the attorneys of the eight SABC journalists who had been fired, and then rehired, for speaking out against the policy.

The attorneys said none of the journalists had received formal notification that the “protest policy” had been lifted and that a climate of fear still prevailed at the broadcaster.

In a separate matter, Van Damme asked whether Icasa had any plans to investigate ongoing reports of “fake news”.

Batyi said acting Icasa chairperson Rubben Mohlaloga would be better placed to answer that question, but that they primarily dealt with fairness and transparency in the news.

It did not regulate the actual content, she said, nor did it look at print media.

Batyi said Icasa had not received any complaints yet regarding e.tv’s application to cancel its prime-time news slot. She said Icasa was considering the application. - News24

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