SABC Inquiry: DA calls for equitable election coverage for all major political parties

Issued by Phumzile Van Damme MP – DA Shadow Minister of Communications
18 Jul 2018 in News

The statement follows the submissions made by DA Shadow Minister of Communications, Phumzile Van Damme MP to the SABC’s Commission of Inquiry into political and editorial interferences at the public broadcaster. Ms van Damme was joined by the DA National Spokesperson, Solly Malatsi MP. Please find attached a soundbite by Ms Van Damme. 

Today, the DA made its submissions to the SABC’s Commission of Inquiry into political and editorial interferences at the public broadcaster. Our submissions focused primarily on the SABC’s editorial policies, specifically in regards to equitable coverage for political parties during elections, as well as the ANC’s undue political influence in this regard.

While the speed with which the new SABC board has implemented the review of its Editorial Policy is commendable, the SABC now has a responsibility to ensure that the independence and integrity of the public broadcaster is respected going forward.

The SABC’s Editorial Code is founded on the principles of editorial independence, fairness, journalistic freedom, open dialogue and quality programming. Sadly, past experiences have shown how these principles have been undermined, particularly with regards to news programming.

In the past, the SABC has failed in its mandate to allocate fair and equitable coverage to South Africa’s opposition parties. As such, the DA has proposed that major political parties should be afforded equitable coverage, especially during elections periods. When we speak of equitable coverage we mean that the public broadcaster must ensure that South Africans have adequate knowledge of the position of political parties on the issues surrounding an election.

Equal treatment must be given when broadcasting and scheduling the events of all major political parties. If the SABC provides coverage for the entire manifesto launch of one party, for example, then this should apply for all other major political parties. This is ultimately in the best interest of the public who have a right to information on political parties so they can make an informed decision on who they would like to vote for.

As the SABC has a list and criteria of what constitutes an event of national importance in their Editorial Policy, the DA has proposed that this list be exhaustive and not be open for interpretation, thereby, decreasing the chances of political interference or bias. This list should include significant conferences of major political parties, not just those of the ruling ANC.

For far too long, the ANC has abused their political influence at the SABC in order to turn the public broadcaster into its mouthpiece. This is largely the result of the lack of a sound Editorial Policy.

Parliament’s Ad Hoc Committee Inquiry into the SABC exposed several instances of political interference. However, none of the staff members who were implicated in questionable editorial decisions, ordered by ANC-politicians and their captured henchmen, have been held accountable.

To this end, the DA proposed to the SABC Inquiry that a section be included in the Editorial Code which deals with consequences for those who do not adhere to the values espoused in the Code.

The DA also proposed the removal of provisions related to Upward Referral. The Editorial Policy currently makes provision for the SABC’s Group Chief Executive Officer (GCEO) to be the SABC’s editor-in-chief, to whom decisions may be upwardly referred “should any difficulty arise”.

While these upward referrals are mandatory, it does set a dangerous precedent for top management to make news decisions. The DA is of the view that the SABC’s Head of News, a journalist, should be made editor-in-chief. It is not the GCEO’s role to make day-to-day programming or newsroom decisions, as these decisions must at all times remain independent.

Finally, the DA supports the “SABC 8” proposal for an internal establishment of an Internal Ombudsman at the SABC which will be the first point of call for editorial complaints. An internal ombudsman must be truly committed to editorial independence and the values enshrined in the SABC’s policies and legislation.

The SABC has a mandate to educate and inform the public without fear or favour. In order for this mandate to be carried out effectively, the public broadcaster requires a sound Editorial Policy.

The DA trusts that through this Commission of Inquiry, the SABC will be able to thoroughly re-evaluate its Editorial Policy in order to distinguish itself as a world-class public broadcaster with an independent newsroom.