DA to consider referring SABC to CCC – James Selfe

Party says if broadcaster does not allocate fair and equitable coverage to opposition, they will take action

DA to consider referring SABC to CCC if inequitable coverage persists

20 June 2016

It has come to the DA’s attention that the SABC has failed in its mandate to allocate fair and equitable coverage to opposition parties. If the situation does not improve the DA will consider referring the SABC to ICASA’s Complaints and Compliance Committee (CCC). Our analysis of coverage from 5 June 2016 to 17 June 2016 reveals disproportionate coverage of the DA as compared to the ANC, which we have found to be treated preferentially by the SABC.

The coverage split for the 3 largest political parties on terrestrial TV news since 05 June reveals a gross disparity between the parties in question. The coverage per the three biggest parties is as follows:

- ANC- 3hrs 4mins 6secs;

- DA- 1hr 13mins 57secs; and

- EFF- 43mins 6secs.

This means that the ANC got covered nearly 3 times more than the DA.

The CCC is an independent committee of the Authority established in terms of section 17A Independent Communications of South Africa Act No. 13 of 2000 and is required to investigate, and hear if appropriate, and make a finding on allegations of non-compliance with the ICASA Act or underlying statutes. This data sample demonstrates just how skewed and disproportionate the SABC’s coverage is. 

It is abundantly clear from the regulations that the coverage of political parties must be on an equitable and fair basis. It is implicit therefore that all political parties should receive more or less the same coverage by the SABC in a specified period.  

To this end we contend that the SABC is in contravention of the Municipal Party Elections Broadcasts and Political Advertisements Regulations, 2011 which deals with equitable treatment and fairness of political party coverage during an election period. 

The DA has consequently briefed our legal counsel to immediately pursue this course of action if the situation does not improve. This is because we believe that it is important that the SABC complies with its legal obligations imposed upon it in terms of the regulations and commence covering all political parties in an equitable and fair manner. This is to the benefit of the entire South African electorate who have a right to be informed about the political activity of all parties and not just the ANC.

It is unfortunate that this matter has gotten to this stage. However, the SABC only has itself to blame due to its refusal to give effect to the regulations that all stations are duty-bound to uphold. This is symptomatic of a public broadcaster that has been seized by the narrow political interests of its COO in Mr Motsoeneng whose deathgrip on press freedom has reached crisis proportions.

In thwarting the DA’s coverage of significant party political events in the election; the SABC has proffered feeble excuses for not attending the DA’s events. This is by claiming that they are experiencing “a lack of resources” or that they had covered the DA the day before at another event. This would be an acceptable response to our invitations if the ANC received the same treatment in this regard. As it happens, the ANC receives coverage for party political campaign events in almost every SABC news bulletin on most days, and irrespective of whether they were covered the day before.

We submit that this practice is inequitable and unfair.

Added to this is Mr Motsoeneng’s arbitrary refusal to have newspaper headlines read out on SABC radio and TV programming. Mr Motsoeneng is also behind the draconian editorial decision to no longer broadcast coverage of service delivery protests in the interests of “national unity”. This is farcical pretext at best and is a transparent attempt to hide the South African people’s discontent with the ANC in government, and a service delivery track-record they can no longer defend.

The DA would submit that this practice is in itself at odds with the constitutional imperative for the public broadcaster to operate in the public interest and to report on the news of the day- no matter how damaging to the ANC and its affiliates.

Contributory to this inequitable treatment was the SABC’s protracted refusal to broadcast the DA’s election advertisements on spurious grounds that are untenable in law. This is despite the fact that all political parties were well within their rights to air party political advertisements at the time the election date was proclaimed.

The DA wrote several letters to the SABC and even to its Head of News, Jimmi Matthews, who continued to employ delaying tactics using bogus reasoning to prevent our adds being aired on television.

The SABC’s excuses were shown up for what they always were: poor attempts to delay the adverts. Excuses ranging from their search for political party slots (not required for paid advertisements), to determining bizarrely if we were in fact a political party at all, demonstrated their desperation to block us at every turn.

We submit that in terms of ICASA’s municipal election regulations, political parties are allowed to broadcast political advertisements during the “election period” as defined as “the period commencing with the date on which the election day is proclaimed…”. The election was proclaimed by the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Des van Rooyen, on 23 May 2016 meaning that, in terms of the law, South Africa is in election period and political parties were allowed to have their political advertisements broadcast from that date.

That the SABC only agreed to air our advertisements after much resistance is in itself something the Communications Authority ought to investigate to satisfy itself that any breaches in national legislation and due process are appropriately dealt with and do not occur in future elections.

The DA will be monitoring the national broadcaster very closely to satisfy ourselves that the SABC gives effects to its statutory obligations. Failing which the DA will refer SABC’s conduct to the CCC for a formal investigation of the aforementioned transgressions by the public broadcaster.

The DA is committed to restoring the integrity and independence of the SABC that should not act to censor the communication of opposition parties just because they do not like what they have to say about the ANC. The South African public have a constitutional right to fair and balanced reports that are in their interest and the SABC’s plot to thwart that is despicable. As such we hope a complaint to the CCC will put an end to this irregular behaviour once and for all.

Issued by James Selfe, Chairperson of the DA's Federal Executive, 20 June 2016