SABC editorial hearings draw to a close, public submissions extended

The deadline for written submissions from the public regarding the SABC’s draft editorial policies has been extended to August 31.

The extension was announced during the final round of the consultations on the SABC’s draft editorial policies in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

The public hearings, which traversed all nine provinces, is the public broadcaster’s most extensive process of its kind since the SABC’s current editorial policy was implemented in 2004.

An effort to review this policy was embarked in 2013, which culminated in the 2016 policies that were filed with the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) in 2016.

However, a complaint lodged by SOS Support Public Broadcasting Coalition and Media Monitoring Africa resulted in the reviewed policies being rejected by Icasa on the basis of the SABC’s failure to ensure that public participation in the development of the policies.

On the public broadcaster’s rejected 2016 amendments, the SABC’s general manager policy and regulatory affairs, Philly Moilwa, said: “It is very difficult to pinpoint where the SABC failed in its public consultations, because this was not prescribed. All the law says is that there must be public consultations, but it doesn’t say to what extent.”

“What was the biggest issue in 2016 was that the changes in the reviewed policy was not what people wanted. You see, it’s not really about the final document but about whether it is reflective of people’s views,” Moilwa added.

Notably, the Johannesburg hearings were poorly attended, to the extent that Moilwa opened his presentation apologising for the dismal turnout. He noted that this was the first time during the public consultation process that the editorial policy project team struggled with attendance — a fact that Moilwa said was “very interesting for Gauteng”.

“In Gauteng people already have access to information, so maybe they already know about this process. And also what we’ve realised is that if people don’t have burning issues to air, naturally they don’t attend the hearings,” he said.

In his presentation Moilwa noted that the policies at hand were never going to undergo a complete overhaul. “If it ain’t broken, why fix it? he said.

READ MORE: SABC blatantly ignores public protector’s report

Moilwa called the 2004 policies robust and forward-looking, but added that the purpose of the exercise has been to figure out if they are still relevant.

He said that throughout the hearings, the major call has been for a focus on implementation.

Broadly the policy review has focussed on issues of programming, news, language, equitable access, local content, religious and educational broadcasting.

Moilwa noted that the issues regarding the broadcaster’s language policy and how the SABC covers news and current affairs have been highly disputed throughout the hearings.

The SABC’s capacity to represent South Africa’s 11 official languages on only three television channels has been a sticking point for the broadcaster, Moilwa said.

He noted for the 20-strong audience that a parallel inquiry into editorial interference has been dealing with the institutional problems plaguing the SABC’s editorial independence.

“The main intention here is to restore public trust,” Moilwa said of the consultations.

The policy team has received over 250 written submissions, with robust public hearings in other parts of the country.

Those who attended the hearings raised a wide range of complaints and suggestions.

The problem of corruption at local radio stations, the SABC’s intellectual property policy, the archival of “golden oldies”, the SABC’s role in nation-building ahead of the elections, the coverage of minority sports and merchandising were all raised by those attending the hearings.

From the back of the scantily populated auditorium, Hassim Phosa reiterated the major sentiment in the room: “You have very nice policies, but you don’t implement them.”

In closing, Moilwa once again drew attention to the near-empty room, concluding that the hearings ought to be about “quality over quantity”.

Once the final submissions are made by August 31, the public’s input will be consolidated internally and a final draft will go through approval by the board and finally sent to Icasa.

“So far nothing extraordinary has come up. People have just repeated what most have said,” Moilwa concluded about the Johannesburg hearings. 

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Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

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