MMA decries ‘clear, overt’ political meddling at SABC

SABC group executive for news and current affairs Phathiswa Magopeni (L), retired executive director of the Press Council of SA, Joe Thloloe, middle, and SABC Board Chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini briefs media at SABC Radio Park in Johannesburg, 5 August 2019, on the release of the report by the Commission of Inquiry into Editorial Interference at the SABC, 5 August 2019. Picture: Nigel Sibanda

Media Monitoring Africa director William Bird said were it not for its strained finances, ‘the SABC would today be the best place to be’.

The findings of the inquiry into political interference in the SABC’s editorial independence were a glimpse into the spectre of the broadcaster’s darkest days since apartheid, Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) says.

The 65-page document compiled by Press Council retired director Joe Thloloe and lawyer Stephen Tawana found capricious use of authority and power to terrorise staff at the SABC, deflecting the corporation from its mandate and editorial policies.

MMA executive director William Bird said the findings confirmed there was “clear and overt political interference at the SABC”.

He said: “There was clearly interference and undue influence from the ministers, particularly the former communications minister Faith Muthambi.

“In looking at the 2016 polls when we had the last local government elections, there was clearly a systematic and clear-cut bias, favour and disfavour towards certain individuals and political parties.

“Ministerial interference was indeed a turning point and this was worrying.”

The trend, said Bird, did not continue in the 2019 polls.

“In the last elections, we saw very balanced SABC reporting and coverage, not seen in a long time, with the SABC deservedly coming out in the top 10.

“We now have a good board and executive management team who have done away with anti-democratic practices.”

Bird said were it not for its strained finances, “the SABC would today be the best place to be”.

Right2Know national spokesperson Lazola Kati, said: “We welcome the report as something we have been striving to achieve in South Africa towards attaining freedom of the media.

“We hope that justice will take its course and that measures will be taken against those implicated in the abuse of journalists and compromising the editorial independence of the public broadcaster,” said Kati.

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