- 'South African Broadcasting Corporation' (SABC) officials have been grilled for their failure to release the much-awaited report into allegations of a politically-motivated "blacklist" implemented by the Group Executive of News, Dr Snuki Zikalala, on SABC services.
An inquiry commission was tasked to investigate whether allegations of blacklisting political commentators that had made statements critical of South African presidency. The commission also investigated the allegations against Dr Zikalala, who was accused of censoring four named commentators he had accused of political bias. Other names were subsequently added to the list of "excluded analysts".
A South Africa-based media watchdog, Freedom of Exchange Institute (FXI), today condemned what it called "wrongful" politically-motivated act because the censored commentators held a particular view on the ruling African National Congress (ANC) succession debate to which SABC presumably opposed.
The FXI asked SABC to release the report in full, which would douse the public speculation. "Half measures and summaries will not do. That is why the FXI filed an information request with the SABC, on the basis of the Promotion of Access to Information Act, asking for the report," FXI stated. SABC officials' response to the report was said to have raised more questions than answers.
Failure to release the report, FXI notes, would mean SABC had failed to abide by its commitment to transparency.
"There is now a public dispute about the contents of the report, with competing versions coming into the public domain: a dispute that will be laid to rest only once the public has an opportunity to engage with the contents of the report directly, and not mediated by the SABC itself," FXI noted, believing, "there is a strong argument in terms of the Act for the report to be released."
Media rights groups doubted why SABC officials continue to sit on the report, although they said it did not contain "blanket ban" on commentators, which contracts the summary of the report published by SABC Thursday. It was stated that the "blacklisting" was happening in "practice" and "by instruction". "We find it amazing that, after this, Adv Mpofu can still claim that the report found that there was no 'blanket ban' and no 'blacklisting' at the SABC."
The hidden report's summary found that instructions were given not to allow some commentators such as Moeletsi Mbeki, President Mbeki's brother, particularly in relation to the Zimbabwe crisis. SABC's summary of the release was found to be confusing, garbled, and even downright contradictory.
SABC officials said the report was not made public simply because anonymous sources provided much of the evidence to the commission, which could not be tested. Besides, by making it public would make the constitutional rights of some people at stake.
"The un-testable nature of some of the evidence was perhaps inevitable with an enquiry of this nature, but the preponderance of confidential sources should not stop the release of the report. The public will read and understand untested (and un-testable) allegations for what they are. Also, if this weakness applies to the report, then it applies equally to the summary, so these are not sufficient grounds to withhold the release of the report," FXI argued.
FXI called on SABC to muster the courage of its convictions and release the full report and deal with the consequences as they arise. "It is highly inappropriate for a public institution, committed to the free flow of information, to disable the free flow of information about its own activities," FXI maintained.
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