The SABC which initially promised to give some live coverage of the Democratic Alliance's (DA) Federal Congress this weekend in Nelson Mandela Bay has gone back on its decision to give any live terrestrial TV coverage on the public broadcaster of the country's official opposition party.
A day before the African National Congress' (ANC) last national elective conference in 2012 in Mangaung, the SABC boldly announced splashy plans, detailing extensive coverage and live crossings of hours of the 4-day event as well as extended Morning Live segments on SABC2 – but has now apparently backtracked on an earlier commitment to do the same for the DA.
There will be coverage of the DA's congress on the SABC's 24-hour TV news channel, SABC News (DStv 404) on MultiChoice’s DStv satellite pay-TV platform.
While the DA will be electing a new leader at the DA's Congress to replace the outgoing Helen Zille, the SABC told the political party it won't be showing any of it on public television, although the SABC recently gave uninterrupted coverage for the ANC's birthday celebration on 8 January in Cape Town.
Ahead of the DA's Congress in Port Elizabeth from tomorrow, there's been no announcement from the SABC regarding any coverage – but the DA is now speaking out.
In a press statement, James Selfe, chairperson of the DA federal council is blasting the SABC, saying the political party learnt on Wednesday that the SABC would not be carrying any of the DA Congress happenings live on free-to-air television in South Africa.
"At this stage, the SABC is unwavering in their decision against agreements for live coverage," says James Selfe.
"It is manifestly in the public interest that a national elective congress of the official opposition in South Africa, representing 4 million votes, receives coverage on the national broadcaster. Both the public interest, and the SABC's own editorial policy, demand that this congress be broadcast to all South Africans, on the national broadcaster”.
The SABC's editorial policy states that the SABC gives full or extended live television and radio coverage to "broadcasting events of national importance".
According to James Selfe, the SABC first agreed to broadcast live for 2 hours on Saturday morning, covering the opening ceremony and the outgoing leader Helen Zille's speech, but that the public broadcaster decided to no longer honour that commitment.
James Selfe said he had a telephone conversation on Thursday afternoon with the SABC's head of news, Jimi Matthews but that "the SABC is unwavering in their decision against agreements for live coverage".
"I've spoken to Hlaudi Motsoeneng [the SABC's chief operating officer] and he said he would get back to me Friday," said James Selfe.
"Should the SABC not reconsider this about-turn on live coverage for this DA Federal Congress, the DA will take steps against the SABC which may include approaching the High Court to review their decision," said James Selfe.