South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), has condemned its own public broadcaster for practicing censorship by not broadcasting images of violent anti-state protests.
Various civil society and media groups have protested the broadcast ban on civil disturbances by the SABC, which has the widest broadcasting reach in South Africa. They took to the streets last week in what was called #BlackFriday and it seems the powers that be are listening… or issuing a lot of damage control.
The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) was initially accused by opposition parties of pro-government bias when it brought in a policy of self censorship when violence flared as local elections approached.
Now the ruling party’s chief whip Jackson Mthembu has condemned the broadcaster, saying: “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,” Mr 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 cosy office to decide and be that arrogant and decide what it is that the people can see or not see.”
The ANC also slated SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng for banning the broadcasting of “negative news” and violent protests on Tuesday afternoon.
Mthembu said this decision could only be reached through public consultation. Although Motsoeneng’s name was not mentioned directly in this regard, Mthembu said no “arrogant” person could take this decision without consulting the public. He said the ANC was not consulted when the SABC took the decision to ban pictures of violent protests.
“No one, sitting in a cozy office, has a right to decide for South Africans what they can or cannot see. That decision amounts to censorship.
“The role of the board in these ongoing challenges leaves much to be desired.
The statement represent a massive reversal by the ruling party and may point to a huge divisions in the ANC, which in May welcomed the broadcast ban by the SABC as the “best decision”.
SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng, who has pushed through a number of policy changes at the broadcaster, is considered close to President Jacob Zuma, whose popularity has been sagging following a string of scandals.
Mr Mthembu said the ANC would meet with Communications Minister Faith Muthambi to discuss the SABC, where the acting chief executive, a journalist, resigned last week, citing a “corrosive atmosphere”.
Outbursts of violence over the lack of services such as water or roads are common in South Africa, and in recent months have included the torching of schools and other property, both public and private.
The protests have taken on political significance before August 3 elections which are expected to be the ANC’s greatest test at the polls since it came to power in 1994.
The SABC said its decision not to broadcast such incidents was an “editorial decision” and not a “policy issue”.
“It should be noted that the decision is not to censor any violent protests but not to glamorise the act of burning public property,” the SABC said in a statement.