Sunday, October 15, 2006

Inside the SABC blacklist report : Mail & Guardian Online

Oh my.... The way the SABC Board is handling the very important report on the enquiry into the rumored blacklisting by the SABC News head of commentators (critical of South African President Mbeki) makes for as much concern as the contents of the report itself. Less surprisingly, the way SABC News is reporting on the document smacks of willfully misleading the public.

I was driving in my car when a bulletin was broadcast on SABC Radio News stating that the report on the enquiry found no evidence of the rumored blacklisting. I only caught the end of the bulletin as the main news was recaptured. The shock and disbelief nearly caused me to leave the road. I decided though that the summary was perhaps unintentionally misleading and that if I heard the full report earlier in the bulletin I may have been treated to more balanced reporting. However, judging by the SABC's online news bulletin on this issue and reports in the general press, the SABC has indeed decided to whitewash the report and present a sanitised summary thereof to the public.

This is shocking. While it is never a very convincing exercise when any institution scrutinizes itself by means of an internal enquiry, the SABC's handling of this particular issue has cost it valuable public trust should it decide to have an internal enquiry on anything else in future. The irony is that the enquiry, and resulting report document, seem to have been well conducted and drafted. My impression is that it was carried out without favouring any one 'side'.

However, the SABC arrogantly decided that it could present it's own skewed representation thereof to the public and thus sidestep the painful but very necessary actions needed to rectify the situation. Alas, the news head stays on and the journalists at SABC News remains under pressure to play to his specific view of the world. Lucky us, Snuki Zikalala will make sure that the South African public is spoon fed with his particular medicine to fix how we see reality. Now we can keep on celebrating all the successes of our vibrant young democracy and ignore all the major challenges that face us. Rather than open debate on these issues, those who rely exclusively on SABC for their daily news -and there are many- can live in bliss ignorance. Snuki will see to it.

The commissioners who drafted the report rightly points out that the last thing the SABC as public broadcaster should be doing in our hard-won democracy is to repeat the practices of the old order (Apartheid South Africa). Thus disqualifying South Africans from democratic discourse and debate. In South Africa, the more informed, will often respond to a questionable statement or story with a sarcastic "Oh, did you read that in the Huisgenoot!" (English = "You"). The more ignorant will often try to bolster their story by pointing out that they read it in the Huisgenoot... The Huisgenoot being a sensationalist human interest weekly magazine featuring the stars, their marriages and babies as well as a guy who survived a crossbow shot through the head or something to that order. It's a glossy magazine version of cheap Sunday tabloid checkbook journalism. The way things are going now, the SABC is in danger of taking Huisgenoot's place in that expression.

Our saving grace at this time is that a lot of our newspapers still value proper journalism and a selected few still practice investigative journalism. Amongst them the Mail and Guardian has been a stalwart both in the old and new South Africa. While the SABC may accuse the newspaper of having stolen the report drafted after the enquiry, which the newspaper denies, I really don't give a damn. The newspaper should be commended for making the full document available to the public. It's a pity that most of the public will still not get to see it as their only access to information is through a politically correct public broadcaster. At least a fair number of people, those who have internet access, can now get their hands on it. You can find the full report, as provided on Mail and Guardian's website, here. For the newspaper's full reporting on the issue, click the link below. Make sure to read the then SABC's Pippa Green's letter of protest to her erstwhile colleague Zikalala. It's sad that someone with the courage of conviction that she shows in the aforementioned letter has been lost to the public broadcaster. I fear more are due to follow...

Inside the SABC blacklist report : Mail & Guardian Online: "The South African Broadcasting Corporation has violated the recommendations of the commission it appointed to probe a blacklist by releasing only a sanitised summary of its findings on Thursday.

(Read original SABC report - PDF, 200k)

Commissioners Gilbert Marcus and Zwelakhe Sisulu said that 'it would indeed be abhorrent, and at gross variance with the SABC's mandate and policies, if practices of the old order were being repeated in the new, with the effect of again disqualifying South Africans from democratic discourse and debate.

'For this reason, we are firmly of the view that this report should be released to the public after consideration by the board.'

The SABC issued a seven-page summary and statement about the commission."

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