JOHANNESBURG - South African journalists took to the streets of Johannesburg and Cape Town Friday to protest what they say is an attempt at censorship by the nation’s public broadcaster.
The South African Broadcasting Corporation has come under fire for a series of recent decisions and events, including edicts telling reporters not to cover violence and destruction of property during protests, and not to air criticism of the broadcaster.
At least six SABC journalists have been recently suspended for either disobeying, disagreeing or “liaising with the media without authorization.” That last violation means journalists aired their grievances to other news organizations.
Earlier this week, the broadcaster’s acting chief resigned, saying, in his public resignation letter, “What is happening at the SABC is wrong and I can no longer be a part of it.”
The SABC has repeatedly denied it is trying to impose censorship.
The broadcaster dominates the nation’s airwaves, with 19 radio stations and four TV channels.
William Bird, director of Media Monitoring Africa, says the attempts at limiting the news remind him of the dark days of apartheid, when the government tightly controlled the media.
“We’re seeing self-censorship on the increase, we’re seeing threats against journalists internally, we’re seeing management actively and openly saying that they don’t want journalists to think, they want them to do what they tell them to do,” he told VOA News. “So it’s very, very worrying trends, especially as we approach local government elections.”
South Africa votes August 3, and it is clear that the ruling African National Congress party sees the SABC as a political battleground. The broadcaster has been previously accused of favoring the ruling party. Last year, the nation’s communications minister announced the broadcaster should be seen as a state-owned company and that she should have the right to appoint or suspend its leaders.
That debate centered on the figure in the middle of this maelstrom, SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng. Motsoeneng, who earned criticism for proposing that all journalists be licensed and that SABC journalists wear uniforms, landed in hot water when the nation’s anti-corruption czar discovered that he had lied about having a matric certificate — which is equivalent to an American high school diploma.
Protesters are calling for Motsoeneng to resign. He did not answer calls from VOA seeking comment on Friday.
Dhashen Moodley is the host of Midday Live on SAFM radio.
On Friday, as protesters were gathering outside his office before his show started, he did what any journalist would do: he followed the news.
After the show, he “liaised” with VOA News, and explained that he was just doing his job.
“There were concerns from my staff members, from my producers who work on my show that this would be a story that would bring us unwanted criticism from within the company,” he said. “But again, we’re journalists. And criticism — come hell or high water — we cover stories.”
It was, Moodley says, a no-brainer: Tell it like it is, so people can decide for themselves. Otherwise, he said, what’s the point of journalism?