A plea to the SABC

2016-07-10 15:00

Dear President Zuma,

Minister Muthambi and Professor Maguvhe,

We, the undersigned, are former SABC board members and senior executives who were intimately involved in the transformation of the corporation from an apartheid state broadcaster to a true public broadcaster.

As the public broadcaster, the corporation was transformed to reflect the solemn commitment of the new South Africa to an ethos of openness, fairness and independence, both in its programming and the manner in which it was governed.

These values were equally central to the character of South Africa’s new democracy that was being shaped.

We write to express our grave concern at the extent to which the SABC has deviated from the principles of good public broadcasting that were laid down at the time of that transformation.

News censorship and the dismissal of journalists who objected to such an instruction is a gross violation of those principles.

Such events, with distortions in the balance of news reporting that have been evident to us for some time, have reached a point that amounts to an abandonment by the SABC of its mandate to be a fair and honest reflector of events in our society.

This is a betrayal not only of the South African public, which the SABC is called upon to serve without fear or favour, but also of many people in civil society, as well as broadcasting specialists from abroad who worked hard to produce a public broadcaster to rival the best in the world.

That objective was achieved alongside the dawn of our new democracy.

The SABC was freed from the shackles of apartheid to embrace the norms and values of the new society, with a new board and management to carry out its mandate.

We were part of that process, and we feel bound to raise our voices against its despoliation.

The news is censored. Editorial decisions are dictated. The public broadcaster that the SABC had become, with an editorial code that committed the corporation to fair, balanced and impartial journalism, free from outside influences, be they political or commercial, shows clear signs of reverting back into being a state broadcaster.

We call upon the SABC to serve without fear or favour, to be a force for good, a well from which all people will drink, and a common reference point for a society striving for unity.

At its best, the SABC should be a crucible of culture and creativity, where programme makers, writers, comedians and musicians are in constant interaction.

They represent the irrepressible creativity of all South Africans in the vibrant public space of their democracy.

Often creativity can be chaotic, complex and uncomfortable, but it should not be spurned or censored. It is the stuff of life.

New and authentic voices should define the character of the SABC.

Given the divisions in our country and the high rate of illiteracy, the SABC has a responsibility not only to help arm our people with skills, but also to educate them about their civic responsibilities.

No other organisation is as well-placed to fulfil such a task.

It is our view that censorship has no place at the SABC. It is in violation of the noble principle of freedom of information and/or freedom of speech as enshrined in our Constitution.

The censorship of certain news items in place at the SABC should be done away with forthwith.

The state of fear under which SABC employees are working is not conducive to good journalism or programming. It has to cease.

The individuals or management found responsible for the censorship and victimisation of employees should be disciplined and removed from the organisation.

The SABC needs to revert to the codes, principles and practices that were adopted at the time of transformation.

The board should appoint a credible and independent task team to investigate the malaise at the corporation, and allow employees to give evidence without fear of victimisation.

Yours faithfully,

. Brigalia Bam, former deputy chairperson of the SABC board;

. Professor Njabulo S Ndebele, former member of the SABC board and chancellor of the University of Johannesburg;

. Joe Thloloe, former editor in chief of SABC TV News;

. Allister Sparks, former board member and editor in chief of SABC TV News;

. Govin Reddy, former deputy chief executive of the SABC;

. Mathatha Tsedu, former deputy chief executive of SABC News; and

. Barney Mthombothi, former chief executive of SABC News.

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