Tuesday, June 12, 2018

SABC to establish an internal ombudsman for SABC News complaints.

The SABC will introduce an internal ombudsman for SABC News complaints from the public and establish a ring-fenced office to deal with queries and issues regarding SABC News editorial and coverage, the South African public broadcaster announced on Monday night.

Chris Maroleng, SABC COO, in an interview with Ashraf Garda on SAfm on Monday night, said "we, through the reform and transformation of the newsroom will also introduce what we are describing as an internal ombud who will allow the public to complain".

The surprising move - not prompted through any external pressure on the SABC - is the latest in a sudden string of positive self-correcting changes at the SABC.

The South African Broadcasting Corporation in the past few weeks announced an inquiry into undue influence on SABC News and its editorial processes, an inquiry into allegations of sexual harassment and sexual abuse inside the SABC, as well as a rebranding of the SABC News service on television and radio.

The SABC's internal ombudsman will function independently, and in addition to the existing Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) whose Broadcasting Code of Conduct the SABC already subscribes to.

The SABC is currently busy with a long-overdue review of the public broadcaster's editorial policy that started in July 2017, trying to bring it up to date since it was last reviewed 14 years ago in 2004.

SAfm changed explained
About the changes at SAfm and listeners who are unhappy with the news and current affairs changes, Chris Maroleng said the anger has to do with how people have become "accustomed to consuming their news and current affairs. The first thing is that we were over-delivering on SAfm on news and current affairs".

"What we were doing is we were producing 6 hours of news and current affairs and the problem with news and current affairs apart from the crucial importance, the way in which we packaged it, is it could not perform commercially to the extent that it supported the broadcast network which is quite extensive for SAfm."

"It was costing us several million. The other thing that we did, we needed to migrate the way that news and current affairs was consumed to a format that was more accustomed to the way that some of our competitors - and more importantly, the global trend of global news consumption - has changed."

"So we developed opportunities around talk radio format content, mixed in with our current affairs obligation, without dropping the mandated, regulatory provision for that current affairs content. So the value judgment we had to make, is how do we develop news content and a news platform that develops conversation and that allows debate in a vibrant, independent way, without putting too much of a burden on the commercial imperative."

Sakina Kamwendo: We should have informed public better
About the shocking removal of Sakina Kamwendo from SAfm's morning slot that saw SAfm producers abruptly censor her and yank her off air during her last show, leaving people listening to music to fill dead air, Chris Maroleng said that the SABC censorship and lack of communication "is a personal regret of mine".

"In our haste to try and fix it and to try and put right things that needed to be made better within the SABC we need to bring along people. We need to understand that it is ultimately people who come from  a very difficult period of abuse, of abuse of power, of unfair decisions being made which were not necessarily in the interest of the SABC."

He said the censorship of Sakina Kamwendo and her abrupt removal "was not an intention to shut [her] down". "We could have done much better in ensuring that the way in which we communicated the rationale of the change, could have been done much better," said Chris Maroleng.

"What we did wrong - I think what we should have done better is also inform our public a bit better," he said.

The SABC that launched an internal investigation into what happened on the day has refused to make the findings public.