Hlaudi Motsoeneng, after Icasa ruling: ‘We are not going to change anything’

The Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) on Monday ordered the SABC to scrap its policy on violent protests, but, typically, the public broadcaster remains committed to its controversial position and will challenge the ruling in court. The ANC is trying to intervene, but will only announce its latest position in a media briefing on Tuesday.

Hlaudi Motsoeneng, amid constant criticism, has managed not only to hold his position where many others would have been sacked or forced to resign, but has increased his influence over the public broadcaster. There are multiple rumours on how he continues to reign under intense pressure, but much of his strategy is simple: Garner support from the right people at the right time. Choose policies to win them over. Take a hard line against anyone who disagrees. Always appeal court judgments. And never, ever admit to being wrong.

The SABC employed similar tactics on Monday when faced with a damning ruling on its policy not to show footage of violent protests. The policy, announced in May, has become a rallying point for critics who have for years been calling for a change of leadership and culture at the public broadcaster. It has led to the suspension of three journalists, pending disciplinary action against another five employees, the resignation of the SABC’s acting CEO, and rolling protests outside SABC offices.

Despite wide-ranging criticism, the SABC has defended the move, but the ICASA judgment rejected the public broadcaster’s arguments to keep the policy. The case was brought by Media Monitoring Africa, the SOS Coalition and Freedom of Expression Institute, and ICASA found the SABC had acted against the Broadcasting Act, its licensing agreement, and the Constitution.

“The order of the SABC places an absolute ban on a subject. A subject, as such, may never be blocked from SABC television or radio – South Africa is not, as in the apartheid era, a dictatorship,” said the judgment from Professor Jacobus van Rooyen, chairman of the Complaints and Compliance Committee.

ICASA said information on the burning of public property during service delivery protests is in the public interest and cannot be categorically blocked. While the Broadcasting Code limits the screening of certain types of violence, it depends on the manner in which it is broadcast.

The judgment continued: “The SABC resolution in the present matter amounts, at its core, to a categorical blocking of the public’s right to information in conflict with the Broadcasting Act which places a duty on the SABC to keep the public informed in the public interest. This resolution is in conflict with the Broadcasting Act 1999 read with section 39(2) and 16(1)(a) and(b) of the Constitution. It is also in conflict with the licence conditions of the SABC.”

“The order by the SABC was invalid from its inception,” Van Rooyen wrote.

ICASA’s ruling is legally enforceable and the policy must be withdrawn retrospectively from the date it was issued. The SABC has a week to show it has complied, and punishments for non-compliance can include a warning, fine, the suspension or revoking of its licence, but it can and will challenge the ruling.

“I wasn’t surprised,” said SABC chairman Professor Mbulaheni Maguvhe at a briefing shortly after ICASA ‘s judgment was released. “It’s not because I didn’t believe in what we’ve done, but that’s how things are in our country these days, but I won’t elaborate any further,” he added.

“I still believe that we were right and I maintain that we are right. We have never imposed any blanket ban on the visuals. I’m surprised that this word is being used – “blanket ban”. For us it’s not a blanket ban, it’s just a veil. You can see through it because in any case we are showing visuals. If it was a blanket ban there wouldn’t be any visuals at all,” Maguvhe continued.

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by Greg Nicolson

Photo Credits: Steve Lang/Daily Maverick