While Tshwane municipality is in the heat of chaos and violence with residents telling their stories via radio calls or pictures on their cell phones, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) has held on to its decision not to televise violent protests across the country.
In fact, the public broadcaster says its decision not to show footage of violent protests is in line with Constitution and the Broadcasting Act.
SABC’s decision has not only paved way for different perspectives to the chaos ravaging Tshwane municipality, many also perceived the decision as an outright insult to the public.
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Responding to complaints tabled by lobby groups, SABC’s acting CEO‚ Jimi Matthews‚ said via an affidavit that the SABC also has the responsibility of safeguarding its journalists and photographers to “dangers of being hit by stray bullet blows and/or affected by violent actions of protesters as has happened before”.
“Furthermore‚ where there are members of the South African Police Service in protests‚ especially violent protests‚ the police have their own photographers and cameras to cover the situations as this conduct is criminal in its nature in terms of the law‚” Matthew added.
Matthews noted in the affidavit, which was submitted on Thursday evening to Icasa’s complaints compliance committee and the lobby groups‚ that the SABC will continue to cover news without fear or favour‚ but will not cover the destruction of public property.
“The statement (communicating the decision not to show footage of violent service-delivery protests) makes it clear that (the SABC) is not prepared to continue to provide publicity to such actions that are aimed at destruction and regressive conduct. Such actions are not advancing any complaints against the government as such‚ but are merely aimed at inciting violence,” he further argued.
Many South Africans have argued that the public broadcaster’s decision is simply subverting the right of the people to gain information void of state or party manipulation – which is one of the fundamental rights that cost many people their lives.
In May‚ SABC was roped to complaints compliance committee of the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) by Media Monitoring Africa‚ supported by the SOS Support Public Broadcasting Coalition and the Freedom of Expression Institute‚ over the its decision to ban coverage of violent protests.
Media Monitoring Africa argued that the decision was unlawful and clearly violates the Broadcasting Act‚ the SABC’s licence conditions and its revised editorial policies.
However, SABC’s CEO has called on Icasa to dismiss the complaints levelled against it because‚ “this application is ill-conceived and ought to be dismissed”.
In response, Media Monitoring Africa director‚ William Bird‚ slammed Matthew’s response and described it as “disappointing”. He said he was disappointed that the SABC’s postulations failed to give a single link to why or how their efforts will have a positive or even desired impact.