The recent clampdown on SABC reporting and news coverage is only the obvious end game of years of political capture of the public broadcaster by the ANC. It was more than a bit rich for the ANC this week to criticise Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s latest news censorship, when it has for years deliberately and systematically captured the SABC.
It has sought to control the SABC board by appointing Zuma cronies to senior positions including the Chairman, deployed cadres to senior editorial positions, and crushed anyone who has dared to speak up. It has obviously always been a deliberate ANC strategy to control the SABC and use it to fill the airwaves with only the “happy news” that the ANC wants us to hear.
The fact is that the ANC does not want South Africans to know the truth, which is that the unprecedented spike in political violence that we are seeing in this election is a result of the complete meltdown inside the ANC. Factionalism, patronage and corruption have come to define the ANC in the past decade, resulting in stalled service delivery and violent political infighting. At some point it had to start boiling over, with ANC members literally killing each other in the fight for access to the patronage network.
Media freedom is entrenched in our constitution because it is an essential ingredient of a healthy democracy. It provides for a diversity of opinion and enables accountability. Thus an independent public broadcaster – free of party political interference, run by independent professionals, and staffed with producers and journalists who are free to speak the truth – is non-negotiable.
Any attempt to sanitise the facts or stifle debate violates the constitution and is anti-democratic. Media censorship takes SA backwards, to a place we’ve been before and never want to go to again.
And make no mistake; right now the SABC is in the hands of Zuma’s ANC. Chief operating officer Motsoeneng has been deliberately deployed by a ruling party that can no longer rely on a good track record of performance to retain political power.
The airing of footage of violent protests and the reading of newspaper headlines on SABC radio and TV stations have been banned. Politically informative radio programmes such as “The Editors” on SAFM have been cancelled and at least seven senior SABC journalists and producers have been suspended for speaking out. Make no mistake, the ANC only believes in a free press so long as the press is deferential to it.
Let us not be fooled by Jackson Mthembu’s attempt on Tuesday to distance the party from the SABC. Journalists, civil society, and opposition parties have roundly and consistently condemned the censorship. When the ANC finally spoke out this week for the first time, it was to deflect responsibility in vague terms: “It is the ANC’s considered view that the various crises engulfing the SABC are a consequence of a lack of leadership at the institution”.
They haven’t suddenly woken up. This is precision timing. The SABC’s job is done, and now they must distance themselves just in time, in the last lap before they get to the finish line.
Their party line till this week has been: hands off our SABC. Just a few weeks ago, ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa defended censorship at the SABC as being in the nation’s best interests. Communications Minister Faith Muthambi – appointed by Zuma and fire-able, Nene-like, by Zuma – has completely failed in her role. She has defended Motsoeneng, in defiance of both the Public Protector and the Western Cape High Court, which has ruled that his appointment was unlawful and should be set aside.
The ANC’s Youth League, ever the battering ram, also came out in strong support of SABC censorship, without any reproach from the ANC. Add to that the strong ANC bias in provision of election campaign coverage and space to political parties on SABC stations, and it becomes obvious: the ANC has captured the SABC.
Ironically, media meddling is the clearest communication of failure. And in trying to control the airwaves and turn the SABC into a party broadcaster rather than a public broadcaster, the ANC is taking us backwards.
The SABC is still an enormously important source of news and information for tens of millions of South Africans. In its banning and canning of debate, the ANC is isolating and disempowering them.
These elections offer a critical opportunity to put South Africa back on the path to deepening democracy and shared national prosperity. The DA will fight resolutely for the free press essential to democracy. A vote for the DA on 3 August is a vote for democracy.