Media / Watchdog
Thursday, 23 Jun 2016 16:10 EATdkiraka@kenyafreepress.com
South Africa Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) has been slammed by the South African public and media activists for its failure to properly cover the violence rocking the city of Tshwane.
According to Business Day Live, a South African online publication, the public broadcaster was slammed this week after it chose not to broadcast images of destruction by protestors in Tshwane, who are up against the selection of Africa National Congress (ANC) candidate Thoko Didiza for the mayoral position in the forthcoming municipal elections on August 3.
Waves of unrest have been witnessed in Tshwane since Sunday 19 June. The demonstrations have since turned violent, with the protestors burning buses and trucks, throwing stones and erecting barriers on different parts of the city roads, leading to traffic disruption.
SABC has however remained firm in its decision to not air the protests, saying that the public broadcaster had a responsibility not to expose its journalists to the dangers of the protests. He also said that while the broadcaster will continue to air news without fear or favour, they will not cover the destruction of public property.
Jimi Matthews, the SABC’s acting CEO, said in a statement: “The statement (communicating the decision not to show footage of violent service-delivery protests) makes it clear that the SABC is not prepared to continue to provide publicity to such actions that are aimed at destruction and retrogressive conduct. Such actions are not advancing any complaints against the government as such but are merely aimed at inciting violence.”
But the move has been interpreted as an act of ‘self-censorship’. SABC is the largest broadcaster in South Africa and the neighbouring countries including Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland. In South Africa alone, it commands an audience of over 20 million people through its 19 radio stations and 4 television stations. This makes it the most influential media house in the South.
The criticism levelled against SABC has often been due to its disproportionate coverage of the ruling party, the Africa National Congress, while giving less time to other political parties. This is according to an analysis by the Democratic Alliance (DA) Party, published in the Business Day Live.
Journalists often find themselves in an ethical dilemma when it comes to airing of violent content, but the debate is skewed towards honouring the sensibilities of those in power. Recently, in 2014, following insurgent attacks in Kenya by Al Shabaab militia between June 15-16 at Mpeketoni, Lamu, that left 65 people dead, President Uhuru Kenyatta blamed the attack on “local political network,” alleging the attack was “politically motivated ethnic violence.”
This led to a heated debate between the government and the opposition, prompting the opposition to call for a rally at Uhuru Park. However, editors of Kenya’s principal broadcasters – Kenya Television Network (KTN), Nation Television (NTV), K24 and Citizen – met and agreed not to air the proceedings live because of fears that the politicians might make rousing remarks and incite the public to take arms. This was a clear case of self-censorship.
With insecurity rampant in the country, it is essential and important to the public that the media covers a rally that was aimed at nudging the government to address the runaway insecurity. But our editors held a secret meeting with representatives of the very government that was being accused of not protecting the people and then decided that the opposition meeting would either turn violent or its speakers would incite the public.
As it turned out, the meeting was extremely peaceful. The media was, once again left with egg on its face. Following the 2007 chaos, the media in Kenya decided to keep things calm in 2013 elections by surrendering its professional role and taking up a new role as preacher of peace. In its coverage of the elections, the media failed to ask tough questions of the IEBC, which in the absence of scrutiny shuffled poll numbers as the country watched.
Immediately the IEBC announced its contested figures, the media focused on covering the celebrations of the winning camp. The recent sacking of former Nation Media Group editor David Galava for writing a highly critical piece on the presidency highlights the intimidation media constantly goes through, which the institution has mostly addressed in recent years by acquiescing to the dictates of those in power.
SABC’s decision not to air violent footage from Tshwane was easily explained away as part of its intuitive decision not to embarrass the government.
Kiraka is a student of journalism at the Technical University of Kenya (TUK). His interests are business, politics, sports and media criticism.