ANC Slams Censorship at South African Public Broadcaster

  • Ruling party says it doesn’t sanction limits on media freedom
  • ANC to meet communications minister over broadcaster

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress said it hasn’t sought to influence news coverage at the national broadcaster, countering a claim by its former acting chief executive officer, and described its current leadership as “lacking.”

Jackson Mthembu, the ANC’s chief whip in parliament, told reporters in Johannesburg that the party will meet with Communications Minister Faith Muthambi on July 11 to discuss the management of the South African Broadcasting Corp.

“You can’t bring any Tom, Dick and Harry” to run the SABC, he said. “At the highest managerial level we are lacking. That’s why we move from one crisis to another.”

Mthembu spoke after Jimi Matthews quit as acting CEO on June 27, saying in his resignation letter that he had compromised on his values while in the post. He said in a July 3 interview with private broadcaster eNCA that he limited coverage of the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters at the suggestion of ANC officials . His resignation came four days after three senior SABC journalists were suspended for opposing an instruction not to report on protests by civil-rights group Right2Know against censorship.

Widest Reach

The SABC operates four television channels and 22 radio stations, giving it by far the biggest reach of any South African media outlet. The broadcaster has come under fire from civil rights groups, opposition parties and many of its own journalists, after its management banned the screening of footage of protesters destroying property because it didn’t want to encourage violence.

“If you put a ban on the footage of property that has already been burned you are in conflict with the South African constitution,” Mthembu said.

Much of the criticism of SABC has been directed against Chief Operating Officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng, who Matthews said took all important decisions, and the nation’s graft ombudsman found had lied about his qualifications. Motsoeneng told reporters on June 29 that he didn’t know what censorship meant and denied that the broadcaster was in crisis.

“Decisions that limit media freedom cannot be sanctioned by the ANC,” Mthembu said. “We have never asked anybody at the SABC to speak for the ANC. Nobody at the SABC represents the ANC.”

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