On Women’s Day, 9 August 2005. the public broadcaster, SABC, sent a freelance cameraman, Sanjay Singh, to cover a speech delivered by the newly appointed Deputy President, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka in Utrecht in KwaZulu Natal.

At the event, a section of the crowd who were supporters of Jacob Zuma, loudly booed Mlambo-Ngcuka while she was speaking. On the news that night the SABC made no mention of this incident. The private broadcaster, e.tv, also at the rally, did report on the booing.

SABC spokesperson, Paul Setsetse, announced that the SABC had not broadcast the incident because it had "simply not been available" he added that the cameraman had arrived too late for the event. However e.tv then broadcast footage of Singh, the SABC cameraman, at the event and filming the booing crowd.

The SABC refused to comment and then on 18 August unreservedly apologised to the public. Snuki Zikalala, SABC News MD, told a radio station on the night of August 18, that the cameraman felt the incident was “irrelevant”.  An independent  two-person commission was established to conduct an inquiry into the incident, and later found that there had been incompetence, but no direct bias.   Setsetse later left the SABC.

Several ethical questions arise from the above scenario:

1. Is it in the public interest to know that Mlambo-Ngcuka was booed? If so, did the SABC contravene the ethical principles of seeking to report the truth as fully and accurately as possible?
2. The SABC initially lied about the availability of the footage, only to change their version of the events later, blaming the cameraman who had thought that the footage was irrelevant. What ethical implications does this have?
3. Several critics accused the SABC of bias and lack of objectivity and editorial independence. Is this accusation founded, or are there other possible explanations for the turn of events? What questions need to be asked in order to make an evaluation of the ethics of the case?
4. Did the SABC act ethically in dealing with this issue? How would you have made an ethical decision if you were in the shoes of the respective SABC decision-makers at the time

Leanne Raymond and BPhil Journalism Class,
Stellenbosch University