DA objects to SABC's 70% "happy news" quota

Marian Shinn to write to Chairperson of Interim Board to intervene with COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng

SABC's "happy news": DA requests SABC board intervention

The DA will today write to the Chairperson of the Interim Board of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), Ms Ellen Tshabalala, requesting that she intervene to ensure that Acting Chief Operating Officer (COO), Hlaudi Motsoeneng, does not implement a policy that 70% of SABC bulletins are "happy news".

We will also request that she revoke the instruction of her predecessor, Dr Ben Ngubane, that gave Mr Motsoeneng the authority to oversee news coverage of the public broadcaster, and re-instate the Group Chief Operating Officer as the Editor-in-Chief.

We are prompted to do this following Mr Motsoeneng's declaration published today in the Mail & Guardian, that he plans to introduce a policy that ensures 70% of SABC's bulletins are "happy news" (see here).

This is a clear indication that he plans to be the government's praise singer in the run up to the 2014 general election.

This 'policy', should it be implemented, is in clear breach of the SABC's editorial policy, the SABC's Charter and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa's (BCCSA's) Code of Conduct for Free-to-Air Broadcasters which all, broadly speaking, require high standards of journalistic integrity, fairness and solid news values to determine - without fear or favour - what is newsworthy.

Specifically, the BCCSA's Code of Conduct requires that the SABC:

  • Report news truthfully, accurately and fairly; and
  • Present the news in the correct context and in a fair manner, without intentional or negligent departure from the facts.

Truthfulness, accuracy and fairness are what the SABC should be aspiring to, not some artificial construct of "happiness".

Mr Motsoeneng has frequently told parliament's portfolio committee on communications that he sees SABC's role as a public broadcaster to spread good news and government activities, particularly those of President Jacob Zuma. His latest declaration is a clear statement of intent to flood news and feature programmes with government propaganda before next year's general election.

His editorial interventions have included banning radio discussions programmes on political issues because the ANC was not included and interrupting scheduled TV programming to give live coverage to a speech by the President that was not an issue of national importance. His actions have been arbitrary and unprofessional.

We note that his new proposal follows on comments made last week by ANC spokesman, Jackson Mthembu, and former government spin doctor, Jimmy Manyi, that the news should be more positive.

With an election around the corner, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out why key ANC communicators are pushing for more positive news content on the SABC.

Any quota for "happy news" will contravene the Code of Conduct's requirement for news to be truthful, accurate and presented in the correct context and violate the sound journalistic principles upon which the SABC's comprehensive editorial policy is based.

South Africans do not want to be lied to or have the wool pulled over their eyes about what is happening in the country. We want the truth and nothing but the truth. 

We will hold the new SABC Board accountable - due to take office on September 26 - to ensure that editorial integrity and adherence of the SABC's editorial policy is strictly adhered to in the run up to the 2014 election.

Statement issued by Marian Shinn MP, DA Shadow Minister of Communications, August 30 2013

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