SABC viewers didn’t get to see all of the drama at Thursday
night’s state of the nation address (Sona), because news boss Jimi Matthews
instructed the TV director not to cut to pictures of opposition parties leaving
the National Assembly.
City Press has also learnt that chief operating officer
Hlaudi Motsoeneng banned the use of commentators on TV and radio.
Meanwhile, more drama is being piled on to an already
dramatic Sona broadcast with news that four of six eNCA satellite signals were jammed.
This comes after cellphone signal was jammed inside Parliament, forcing
journalists and opposition MPs to protest. The signal was eventually restored.
On Saturday, the SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) said it
planned to approach the courts to prevent any future attempts by state security
agencies from unlawfully blocking communication signals aimed at interfering
with journalists’ constitutionally protected rights and freedoms. It called the
act of jamming a “grave concern”.
Sanef said it would want to meet with President Jacob Zuma
and Speaker Baleka Mbete about the illegal clampdown on freedom of expression.
It further said it would ask the courts to compel Parliament
to allow broadcast media to install their own cameras in the House. “We think it
a winnable case because the constitutional principles are very clear,” said
Sanef chairperson Mpumelelo Mkhabela.
The coverage of Sona by SABC2 and other broadcasters
differed vastly, even though all media channels relied on the same feed and all
had their own cameras outside.
The Parliament TV feed did not show the Economic Freedom
Fighters (EFF) being forcibly removed, but instead kept cameras trained on
Speaker Baleka Mbete and national council of provinces chair Thandi Modise. The
walk-out by the DA was also not shown, despite Parliament having plenty of
It was only when journalists uploaded cellphone footage that
broadcasters such as eNCA could show what had happened.
Hannes du Buisson, president of the Broadcasting,
Electronic, Media and Allied Workers’ Union, on Friday said: “It has been
reported by members who overheard conversations on comms and in the control
room that a senior news boss instructed the director not to cut away from the
Several sources working on the Sona broadcast said the instructions
came from Matthews, SABC’s group executive of news and current affairs, who
called the shots from the SABC’s outside broadcast unit.
City Press learnt that an SABC parliamentary reporter ran
from the media gallery to the doors of the National Assembly with a camera
operator to join teams from eNCA and ANN7 to film EFF members being evicted.
But sources said Matthews instructed: “Do not cut away! You
will not cut away from the Speaker.”
SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago confirmed this: “Yes, the
head of news instructed that we keep on the president, as we were there to
capture [his] speech.”
He dismissed claims about the journalist: “The cameras you
are referring to are positioned at that same position every year to capture the
parliamentarians when they leave Parliament. It is rather naive to think that
they were there to capture the exit of the EFF. It must be noted that this does
not suggest that we did not cover the EFF when they left Parliament. We covered
them when they were marching out towards Marks Building.”
Faced with the same lack of shot options from Parliament TV,
eNCA’s executive producer, Mapi Mhlangu, said: “Our reporter Paula Chowles was
in the assembly. We issued an instruction. We said: ‘You have an iPhone. Use
it.’ She shot the EFF removal and uploaded it to YouTube, emailed us the link
and we were able to download it and broadcast it within 10 minutes.”
SABC2’s coverage was plagued by technical problems, despite
an upgrade in December that introduced state of the art recording systems to
Parliament TV. SABC showed the red carpet and used presenters to host their
Sona coverage, but featured no political analysts. Several SABC insiders said
this instruction came from Motsoeneng. The decision was questioned by members
of the SABC’s news team, but their managers repeatedly overruled them.
Kganyago said: “It was our plan not to use commentators, as
we have senior journalists who we felt were capable enough to do the work at
William Bird, director of Media Monitoring Africa, said:
“You would expect ... the national broadcaster would have had the best
commentators in the country to unpack the president’s address ... It seems like
an extraordinary decision to leave it to the presenters …one of whom repeated
the president’s joke in the end, saying the opposition were missing out by not
hearing the speech.”
Meanwhile, eNCA told City Press four of their six satellite
lines from Parliament “were jammed by an unknown rogue operator” on Thursday
night – not for the first time.
eNCA managing director Patrick Conroy said: “We have been
affected during high-profile news events since April last year, including the
elections and the Oscar Pistorius trial. Because nonpolitical events have also
been targeted, we do not believe there is a political motive for this.”
At The New Age newspaper business breakfast on Friday
morning, Motsoeneng reiterated the SABC’s editorial policy to promote “70% good