Icasa rules against SABC but activists warn not to bet on its compliance

LOBBY groups that lodged a complaint against the SABC’s decision to not cover violent protests welcomed Monday’s decision by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa), ordering the public broadcaster to withdraw its controversial policy. However, the groups are sceptical about whether the public broadcaster will comply.

Sekoetlane Phamodi, the national co-ordinator at SOS Support Public Broadcasting Coalition, said the organisations felt vindicated, but it was unfortunate that the matter had to come to a tribunal to get the SABC to do the right thing.

He said the SABC and Communications Minister Faith Muthambi, who had been “delinquent” in ensuring that the public broadcaster complied with the Broadcasting Act, were now “shaking in their boots”.

“They are worried that we have reached a critical point and what has been unsustainable and stated clearly to them … is now starting to unravel and the situation for them is on shaky ground.”

READ THIS: No one will tell the SABC what to do, says Hlaudi Motsoeneng after ruling

Icasa on Monday ruled that the SABC must withdraw its decision not to show footage of violent protests where public property was being damaged.

Icasa council acting chairman Rubben Mohlaloga said the SABC chairperson had to confirm in writing within seven days to the authority that the public broadcaster had complied with the decision.

He said the finding was binding on all parties involved in the matter.

When asked what the penalty would be for noncompliance, he said it could range from a warning to a fine or even revoking of a licence.

If any parties felt “discomfort” with Icasa’s decision, they could take the matter to court for a review.

In May, Media Monitoring Africa, the SOS Support Public Broadcasting Coalition and the Freedom of Expression Institute lodged a complaint with Icasa’s complaints and compliance committee, challenging the validity of the SABC’s decision.

In the aftermath of the ban, a number of senior journalists at the broadcaster are facing disciplinary action for questioning the decision. The SABC board last week denied that the ban was a policy position, calling it an “editorial decision”.

READ THIS: SABC ordered to back down on violent protest ban

Icasa’s complaints and compliance committee heard the matter during a public hearing in June on an urgent basis. It then made a recommendation to the Icasa council last week Thursday. Mohlaloga said the council had concurred with the recommendation made.

Icasa is a Chapter 9 institution in terms of the Constitution.

Phamodi said he “wouldn’t bet money” on the SABC complying with Icasa’s order.

“We know the SABC is notorious for routinely taking matters upon judicial review, in spite of the fact that the rulings are very sound rulings. They abuse the court process routinely, abuse public funds routinely in order to defend the indefensible,” he said.

Head of policy at Media Monitoring Africa Thandi Smith said it would be a “logical step” for the SABC to take the matter for review. “We are really happy, we welcome the judgment and we are really excited about Icasa’s ruling in the public interest and justice prevailing in the case,” she said.

“However, we are waiting and concerned to see how the SABC responds and how they are going to carry out the ruling and if they really will comply.”

The Democratic Alliance “strongly encouraged” the SABC to immediately implement the order and not waste public funds on “frivolous” litigation.

READ THIS: Thuli Madonsela launches inquiry into SABC

“Today’s ruling by Icasa is the beginning in fixing the mess created by ANC-appointed Hlaudi Motsoeneng who has been unrelenting in his crusade to turn the SABC into an output station for the ANC’s sunshine news,” said Phumzile Van Damme, the party’s national spokeswoman.

The opposition party believed change was needed at the SABC and has recommended 15 things it believed should happen.

These were:

– Suspend SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng and institute an independent and impartial disciplinary inquiry into his fitness to hold office;

– Suspend the SABC’s nonexecutive board members and chairman Mbulayeni Maguvhe for failing in its duties to hold the SABC’s management accountable;

– Suspend acting CEO and CFO of the SABC James Aguma for providing financial backing for Motsoeneng’s censorship project;

– Drop the disciplinary charges against the SABC staffers suspended for speaking out against Motsoeneng;

– Advertise the positions of SABC COO and CFO requiring suitably qualified and impartial broadcasting professionals to head the SABC;

– Allow the portfolio committee on communications to interview candidates to serve as an Interim board until a new board is appointed;

– Provide full disclosure for the reasons for the suspension of Frans Matlala as CEO in November 2015;

– Reverse the approval of the SABC’s revised editorial policy and conduct public consultation. It is the revised policy which gives SABC COO total control over the public broadcaster;

– Drop the SCA petition appealing the High Court in the Western Cape’s decision. The court had originally found that Motsoeneng’s appointment SABC COO was irrational and unlawful and thus set it aside;

– Implement the remedial action required by the public protector;

– Reverse the ban on the reading of newspaper headlines on SABC radio and TV stations;

– Reverse the canning of “The Editors” on SAFM;

– Reverse the canning of “Kommentaar” on RSG;

– Commit to providing equitable and fair coverage of all political parties on SABC stations ahead of the local government election;

– Fire Communications Minister Faith Muthambi for failing to conduct proper oversight over the SABC.



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