SOUTH AFRICA: Bishops Call for Parliamentary Intervention on Media Censorship Ahead of Elections

CAPE TOWN JULY 15, 2016 (CISA) – The Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) has called on the parliament to intervene and bring to an end to media censorship by the national broadcaster ahead of next month’s local government elections.

“Through its editorial policy and the subsequent crisis, an impression has been created that the SABC [South African Broadcasting Cooperation] is failing to report fully and objectively on events that have the capacity to diminish the holding of free and fair elections,” said Bishop Abel Gabuza, the chair person of SACBC Justice and Peace Commission.

The call was made after SABC rejected a recommendation by Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) to lift its ban on footage which shows state property being destroyed during protests.

In May‚ Media Monitoring Africa‚ the SOS Support Public Broadcasting Coalition and the Freedom of Expression Institute lodged a complaint with Icasa’s complaints and compliance committee‚ challenging the validity of the SABC’s ban on violent protests.

Although the South Africa’s parliament is currently in recess until after the local government elections, to be held on August 3, Bishop Gabuza is urging its communications committee to meet and discuss the crisis engulfing the SABC.

“Certainly, this is a serious matter that requires urgent intervention by the National Assembly.  We urge the portfolio committee on communications to demonstrate its oversight leadership,” said the bishop noting that people will not trust the outcome of the elections if the dispute regarding fair coverage and censorship by a public broadcaster is not resolved.

“As the forthcoming elections are heavily contested, it is in the interests of the common good, and a matter of urgency, that public confidence in the public broadcaster be restored.”

He added that, “The parliament has the ability to do this.  It has the authority to demand accountability from the minister and the SABC board on matters relating to SABC’s adherence to the Broadcasting Act and the SABC Charter.”

The Justice and Peace Commission is an advocacy body established by (SACBC) to tackle the structural roots of poverty and inequality. The SABC owns three TV channels and eighteen radio stations.

Violence during service delivery protests are common in South Africa.  Recently, the protests have assumed a political significance before August 3 elections.

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