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Sanef appalled at malpractice of Icasa, SABC revealed in High Court judgment

Sanef appalled at malpractice of Icasa, SABC revealed in High Court judgment

The SA National Editors’ Forum is appalled at the extent of the deceit, malpractice and political manipulation of the South African Broadcasting Corporation news services in favour of the ruling African National Congress which has been revealed in a scathing judgment in the South Gauteng High Court.

Judge C J Claassen was ruling on a review requested by the Freedom of Expression Institute of the dismissal by the Complaints and Compliance Committee of the Independent Communication Authority of SA (Icasa) of complaints brought by the FXI against the SABC for blacklisting certain political commentators from the airwaves and other manipulation of news.

Judge Claassen said the reasoning of the committee that it had no jurisdiction to hear the FXI complaint was “fundamentally flawed’‘, adding that if it was a correct decision, “it would mean that the SABC may with impunity manipulate and distort the preparation of its news and current affairs coverage and publicly lie about it when they are caught out having done so”.

He ordered Icasa to pay the costs of the FXI application and to relaunch a probe into the institute’s complaints of alleged political interference at the SABC in 2006, with fresh members of the Complaints and Compliance Committee conducting the hearing.

At the time of the allegations of blacklisting, the then Chief Executive Officer of the SABC, Dali Mpofu, appointed a commission of inquiry whose findings were kept secret by the SABC.

Judge Claassen was scathing in his criticism of the then head of SABC news, Dr Snuki Zikalala, who, he said, had unlawfully manipulated SABC news coverage of Zimbabwe’s 2005 elections in favour of President Robert Mugabe and of blacklisting critics of the conduct of the elections, Elinor Sisulu, Moeletse Mbeki and publisher Trevor Ncube. He was equally scathing of Zikalala’s blacklisting of commentators Karima Brown, political editor of Business Day, and Aubrey Matshiqi which he described as pre-censorship.

The judge described the SABC’s dishonest denial of the blacklisting as a “deliberate lie told on air” which affected “the honesty and integrity of SABC news programmes” and violated the SABC’s licence conditions which required the broadcaster to “meet the highest standards of journalism’’ with “fair and unbiased coverage” independent of government, commercial and other interests.

Judge Claassen said that the Complaints and Compliance Committee’s view that such broadcasting only applied to the end product “seen or heard by the public’’ and not the way the news was prepared was “fundamentally flawed”.

He also found the SABC board at the time guilty of “dereliction of duty’’ in failing to take any action “when the manipulation and dishonest cover-up was exposed by its own commission of inquiry”.

Sanef welcomes this searing exposure of the dishonesty of Zikalala, Mpofu and the official SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago as a vindication of the complaint of the FXI. But as important is the vindication of the principled conduct of persecuted staffers at the SABC such as radio news head Pippa Green who, despite threats, complained bitterly to Zikalala over what was going on and radio presenter John Perlman who exposed the commentators’ blacklisting.

Sanef looks forward to Icasa’s CCC carrying out the court order by delving even more deeply into the conduct of the violators of journalistic and broadcasting standards and ethics.