The Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) has laid a complaint with
the Complaints and Compliance Committee (CCC) of the Independent
Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), about the South
African Broadcasting Corporation, according to a release.
In the 20-page complaint, the FXI argues that the SABC has violated its founding statute, the Broadcasting Act, eleven times, its licence conditions five times and the South African Constitution three times in the recent past.
The complaint makes reference to the findings of the Commission of Enquiry into blacklisting and related matters which concluded its work late last year, as well as subsequent events.
The FXI appeals to members of the public who are concerned about recent events at the SABC to support the complaint, by writing to Icasa. The full version of the complaint, as well as Icasa's contact details, can be found on the FXI's website at http://www.fxi.org.za/.
In the complaint the FXI notes that it has waited for the SABC Board to implement the findings of the report, but has become increasingly concerned at what appears to be the SABC's lack of appropriate response to the Commission's findings. There is no information in the public domain on actions being taken on the measures proposed by the Commission. Instead, in a perverse twist, according to media reports, attempts have been made to issue SAFM radio anchor John Perlman with a written warning for refuting the SABC's statement denying the existence of the blacklist. There is also no indication of whether action is being taken against the person responsible for excluding commentators, the Managing Director of News and Current Affairs, Dr. Snuki Zikalala. The FXI's loss of confidence in the ability of the SABC to address the report's findings has precipitated the complaint to Icasa.
The FXI has also been holding pickets outside the SABC's Auckland Park offices to protest against the SABC's lack of response to a Memorandum handed to it during a march in November last year, as well as the lack of response to the blacklisting report.
The complaint alleges that, by excluding certain commentators, Zikalala's actions have violated the Broadcasting Act's requirement for its public services to 'provide significant news and current affairs programming which meets the highest standards of journalism, as well as fair and unbiased coverage, impartiality, balance, and independence from government, commercial and other interests'.
By limiting the diversity of opinion the public has access to, the SABC has also violated the provision of its licence conditions that requires it to 'provide a reasonable opportunity for the public to receive a variety of points of view on matters of public concern'. Zikalala's conduct in giving express or inferred instructions also does not meet the highest standards of journalistic professionalism, as the SABC is required to do in terms of the Broadcasting Act and its licence conditions.
The FXI further argues in the complaint that failure to act on declining staff morale is a violation of the Broadcasting Act, as the SABC has failed to secure the conditions necessary for professional journalism. The allegation that Zikalala showed a Special Assignment Programme to the Presidency prior to broadcast is especially grave, as it opens the SABC up to editorial influence by the President's office, in violation of the Broadcasting Act and the SABC's own code of editorial practice.
The FXI also argues that the statement released by the SABC on the 20 June 2006, denying the existence of the blacklist, misled the public. In the process, the SABC violated the Broadcasting Act, its own Code of Practice and Icasa's Code of Conduct for broadcasters.
The FXI also points to incidents where the SABC may well have violated the freedom of expression clause in the South African Constitution. These include the attempt the interdict the Mail and Guardian newspaper to force it to take down a copy of the report from its website, and the alleged showing of a Special Assignment programme to the Presidency.
If reports about the attempts to discipline John Perlman are accurate, then this attempt could also be a breach of the Constitution, the Broadcasting Act and SABC licence conditions, as he would have been disciplined for practicing professional journalism and meeting high standards of accuracy.
The FXI has requested Icasa to enforce the licence conditions and underlying statutes of the SABC, by investigating, hearing and making a finding on the complaint. Icasa is also requested to ensure that the SABC provides it and the public with a full report on the actions it has taken on the Commission's findings. The SABC should be required to desist from any further contraventions of the Broadcasting Act and its licence conditions, and Icasa should direct the SABC to take any remedial steps Icasa sees fit to prescribe. The FXI noted in conclusion that the SABC's conduct around the blacklisting saga could not be condoned, as it runs counter to the letter and spirit of the Broadcasting Act.