Hawks investigating SABC protest policy – ICASA

Communications authority has been battling since July last year to get public broadcaster to provide proof that it would withdraw the ban

Hawks investigating SABC protest policy - Icasa

31 January 2017

Cape Town – The Hawks are investigating complaints that the SABC has not abided by its ruling to lift the ban on airing protest footage, the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) said on Tuesday.

A criminal charge it laid at Bramley police station on November 28 had been escalated to the Hawks, Icasa councillor Nomvuyiso Batyi told Parliament's portfolio committee on communications on Tuesday.

They had not yet received a case number from the Hawks.

Icasa had been battling since July last year to get the SABC to provide proof that it would abide by its ruling to withdraw the ban.

She said the SABC's defence was that it never actually implemented the May 26 protest policy, but only announced it.

ANC MP Mondli Gungubele said it would not help the broadcaster if the Hawks only finished its investigation in 2019. He asked Icasa if it was free and able to execute its mandate.

DA MP Phumzile van Damme congratulated Icasa for taking action, but agreed with Gungubele that Icasa could "show more teeth".

Batyi said the Icasa Act allows the authority to lay criminal charges to enforce its orders."We cannot take the law into our own hands. We have to go to the Hawks [police]," she said.

Hawks spokesperson Hangwani Mulaudzi was not immediately available for comment at the time of publication.

The maximum fine a person or entity who violates an Icasa order can receive is R1m, or one year in jail.

She said thus far, they had investigated the SABC as an organisation. No monetary fine had been considered, as the protest policy had resulted in no financial loss or gain.

Cope MP William Madisha said it would help Parliament and Icasa to investigate "criminal" individuals.

On May 26 last year, the SABC banned the airing of footage of violent protests on its television stations. Icasa held public hearings about the decision. On July 11, it instructed the SABC to reverse its decision.

SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng said at a press briefing later: "No one is going to tell us what to do" and "I don’t know what is SABC censoring".

Batyi said the SABC never provided any proof of its withdrawal of the policy, despite agreeing to abide by Icasa's order on July 20.

She said they followed up with the attorneys of the eight SABC journalists who were fired, and then re-hired, for speaking out against the policy.

The attorneys said none of them had received formal notification that the "protest policy" had been lifted, and that a climate of fear still prevailed at the broadcaster.

On a separate matter, Van Damme asked if Icasa had any plans to investigate ongoing reports of "fake news".

Batyi said acting Icasa chairperson Rubben Mohlaloga would be better placed to answer that question, but that they primarily dealt with fairness and transparency in the news.

It did not regulate the actual content, she said, nor did it look at print media.

On another matter, Batyi said Icasa had not received any complaints yet regarding e.tv's application to cancel its prime time news slot. She said Icasa was considering the application.

This article first appeared on News24, see here