Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) 'deeply concerned' over 'act of censorship' at SABC: 'The SABC should be encouraging debate, not limit it'.

Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) tells TV with Thinus it is "deeply concerned" by what appears to be "an act of censorship" by the SABC's decision not to broadcast a Democratic Alliance political advert and says "the SABC should be encouraging robust debate, not seeking to limit it".

"MMA is deeply concerned by what appears to be an act of censorship and clear limitation of freedom of speech by the SABC's decision not to broadcast a Democratic Alliance advert that is strongly critical of the ANC," says MMA director William Bird.

"It is during an election period that politicians are more likely to be more strident in their views and critiques of parties. It is during this time that we expect, as citizens, to hear our political parties asserting and putting their views and policies forward".

"Yet the SABC has taken away the ability of the voter to decide for themselves whether to accept or dismiss the DA's critique or not," says William Bird.

"The SABC has provided four main reasons for its decision. For such an important decision to be taken it is critical that we evaluate the reasons."

"The first reason put forward by the SABC is: It is our view that the reference in your television advertisement to police killing our people is cause for incitement to action against the police services".

"While almost certainly calculated to reflect badly on the ANC, and while it may be a generalisation, given the events at Marikana or the death - broadcast on SABC - of Andries Tatane at the hands of the police, it can hardly be said to be untrue nor can it be said to constitute incitement to violence".

"The second reason put forward by the SABC: “The Electoral Code of Conduct includes a clause prohibiting the publication of false information about other candidates or parties".

"The line in the advert is: “200 million rand has been spent on upgrading the Presidents Private house.” Given that the issue of Nkandla is on the national agenda, and given that it has already been the subject of an Inter-Ministerial Task Team and the Public Protector, and given that the amounts have not at any stage been disputed - except that they are in fact higher than R200 million - it seems difficult to argue that the information is false".

"The third reason put forward is that, “the Code of Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa (ASA) does not permit attacking another product to promote your own".

"Given that we are in an election period which is about making informed choices, where political parties and politicians routinely attack each other's "product" it seems most unlikely that this concept would be applied," says William Bird.

"The final reason put forward is:”We are also of the view that the SABC will not permit personal attacks on any party member or leader by any other party, as is being done in the advertisement in respect of president Jacob Zuma".

"This is extremely difficult to sustain given the nature of political rhetoric and occasions where personal attacks by leaders from all parties are reported in the news, as they should be. In the current instance it is an advertisement and not news and viewers should be credited with the ability to discern between the two".

William Bird says Media Monitoring Africa is "deeply disappointed by the SABC's decision".

"The SABC should be encouraging robust debate, not seeking to limit it. We have seen too many reports in the media in the run up to these elections where different political parties have complained about bias at the SABC".

"MMA has monitored the SABC's coverage of all democratic elections and we are currently monitoring their news and current affairs".

"We have noted in all our previous reports how despite views to the contrary the SABC has managed to perform exceptionally well in many instances but also the content of their programming in previous elections has been overwhelmingly fair".

"We will soon be releasing a fairness assessment of the news coverage across all media being monitored and will be among the first to highlight concerns around fairness if content should they arise".

"We believe the decision not to broadcast the advert will fundamentally undermine perceptions of fairness of the SABC".