Monday, October 16, 2006

South African broadcaster tries to suppress blacklist inquiry

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) recently conducted an internal inquiry on allegations that the state broadcaster was blacklisting of commentators and analysts who said unfavorable things about the government.

One of the country's most prestigious newspapers The Daily Mail and Guardian tried to run a copy of the report on its website but the SABC sued to gag the paper from publishing the report on the PUBLIC broadcaster. The case was rightly dismissed and the report is now available on the daily's website.

The SABC tried to only release a seven-page sanitized version of the report.

No wonder.

The paper notes that the damning report confirms the existence of an arbitrary blacklist of outside commentators who should not be consulted and says there is a climate of fear in the broadcaster’s newsrooms. It is scathing about the arbitrary decision-making, the iron-fist rule and the lack of editorial knowledge of the news and current affairs managing director Snuki Zikalala.

Bizarrely, the SABC defended its initial decision to not fully publish the report. "[I]t was an internal inquiry and there was no obligation to make the report public," noted a spokesman for the broadcaster. "We have come out with the report, it is only what transpired at the hearings that we are not making public."

So a report on the suppression of information was... suppressed. This can hardly inspire confidence in the public broadcaster.

Fortunately, the country's written press is fairly vibrant. But let's hope they continue to hold the public broadcaster's feet to the fire in order to prevent a return to the bad old days of state propaganda on the airwaves.

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