Icasa will soon rule in favour or against a complaint submission by a group of media lobby groups against the decision by the SABC to not show footage of violent protest footage.
Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), with support SOS Support Public Broadcasting Coalition (SOSA) and the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) lodged papers with the Complaints Compliance Committee of Icasa on 1st June over the decision.
A hearing was held today at the Icasa offices in Sandton to hear arguments from both sides and decide on the matter.
Protesters from the DA, Right2Know and other non-profit organisations stood outside before and during the hearing, chanting “Down with the SABC, down with censorship and down with Hlaudi.”
The public broadcaster started its argument off by stating that the act of parliament which governs Icasa only empowers its compliance committee to investigate and make recommendation to the Icasa Council on the matter, but that it has no power to interdict the SABC and force it to reverse its decision.
“The complainants are like preachers who distort verses for their own ends,” the SABC’s counsel said.
Meanwhile, SABC COO, Hlaudi Motsoeneng sat quietly in the audience sternly observing the process.
People don’t reason
“Investors want judicial independence, and if the Complaints Compliance Committee finds against SABC, it will harm foreign investment,” it argued. “Common sense dictates that once people see cameras, they get excited. People don’t reason.”
The SABC also argued that political party members take advantage of protests and start burning once they’ve seen others doing the same in news bulletins.
“People are unemployed. These people don’t have jobs. They loot. We are saying, as the SABC, we’re not going to be part of that,” it said.
The counsel representing the lobby groups, however, hit back hard at the SABC in their argument, posing very compelling arguments and statements.
“The effect of the SABC’s policy statement is a brazen and audacious act of political censorship,” Gilbert Marcus, representing the groups, began the argument.”The SABC policy also undermines the constitutional principles of media and information freedom.”
“The SABC policy has no basis and violates its own editorial policies,” he added calling it a diluted version of the public broadcaster’s policy.
He pointed out that seeing as TV is a visual media, it makes no sense for a TV broadcaster to decide that it’s journalists will only report on violent protests using second hand accounts and not show any visuals.
“TV is not intended to be a depiction of talking heads, it’s intended to be a depiction of reality,” Marcus said.
Marcus hit back at the argument that the broadcast of violent protest footage inspires others to replicate what they’ve seen.
“Viewers are kept deliberately ignorant…They are not trusted by SABC to formulate their own views,” he added, comparing this to the way the apartheid government censored news. It is a mere fallacy to argue that the mere portrayal of protests equate to incitement to act violently,” he said.
“Indeed, if the SABC is concerned about the impact of violent protest footage, it will give warning for sensitive viewers or pixelating gory images…The SABC has a duty to report, contextualise and present honestly without suppressing relevant facts,” Marcus added.
The screenshots below are from extracts of the written argument submitted by MMA’s William Bird.
Marcus further went on to ask what empowering provision in law gave the SABC the right and temerity to enforce its censorhsip on violent protest footage through the enforced ban.
Icasa will announce its decision soon.