In a surprise shift the ANC has told the SABC, the national
broadcaster, it no longer wants it to act as a propaganda machine for
the ruling party, writes Edwin Naidu in the Sunday Independent.

"We don't want the SABC to be the mouthpiece of the next ANC government, we just want you to operate professionally," was the strong message from the ANC to Dali Mpofu, the chief executive of the SABC, at a meeting two weeks ago.

The ANC has also set its sights on the membership of the new board, controversially appointed by President Thabo Mbeki soon after the Polokwane conference. It had strong words, too, for Khanyisiwe Mkhonza, the new chairperson, who was told in informal meetings what party leaders expected of the public broadcaster.

"She also had her ear pulled," said an ANC source.

ANC leaders were reportedly unhappy with the national broadcaster for becoming embroiled in the succession debate between Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, his successor as ANC president, and taking a side which manifested itself in its reporting.

"It was never the intention of the ANC to make the national broadcaster resemble the SABC under apartheid," the source said. "Individuals within the organisation took it upon themselves to act for the political masters."

The ANC source confirmed that Mpofu was summoned to Luthuli House last month and told in no uncertain terms by the leadership, including Kgalema Motlanthe, the ANC deputy president, that the party was concerned about the organisation's taking sides in the battle between Mbeki and Zuma. The party was embarrassed by the broadcaster's bias (towards one candidate, Mbeki) and the lack of credibility of news and current affairs programmes.

While Mbeki benefited from SABC airtime, an interview scheduled with Zuma in 2005 before his rape trial was canned and a song in support of Zuma was banned from the airwaves. A critical documentary on Mbeki was screened only after much dithering at the SABC.

"I won't comment on the meeting. I understand the position of the ANC," Mpofu said.

"The ANC doesn't have to tell the SABC that it does not want it to be its propaganda machine. It never instructed the SABC to be its propaganda machine. The ANC has its own communication structures, while the government has GCIS [the government communication and information system]."

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