The Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) is to finally hear complaints made against the SA Broadcasting Corporation's controversial decision to ban certain political commentators from the air, writes Siyabonga Mkhwanazi in The Star.

Civil society has welcomed a decision by Icasa to hear the complaint by the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) after the public broadcaster was accused of banning certain political commentators from its stations.

The Save Our SABC Coalition, a combination of organisations including the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the Media Monitoring Project and FXI, said yesterday that although the complaint was lodged early in 2007, it was pleasing that Icasa had set a date for the hearing.

FXI filed the complaint after the SABC failed to implement the 2006 recommendations of the commission of inquiry headed by former group CEO Zwelakhe Sisulu into the blacklisting of certain commentators.

Icasa informed the FXI that it could not rely solely on the recommendations of the commission as evidence, but had to dig up its own evidence to back up the complaint.

In a statement yesterday, the Save Our SABC Coalition said the FXI had now submitted the required evidence. The coalition said it agreed with the FXI that the SABC should have moved with speed in implementing the commission's recommendations, including that the role of head of news and current affairs Snuki Zikalala be restricted to general policy and strategy. The commission also suggested that the SABC board should take into consideration concerns about Zikalala's management style.

It was also recommended that no political commentators should be excluded and that a regular audit on the use of commentators be conducted.

Had the SABC carried out these recommendations, it "would have instilled public confidence in the public broadcaster's commitment to making right the wrongs pointed out in the commission's report, and may have made the FXI's complaint unnecessary', said the coalition.

"While blame could be placed on the previous board (which was chaired by Eddie Funde), the current board (chaired by Khanyi Mkhonza) has a duty to clarify this matter once and for all, as editorial integrity will not be restored until accountability is achieved on this matter." The coalition added that resolving this dispute would go a long way in creating an independent, transparent and accountable public broadcaster that served the public without favour.

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