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Media Freedom & Right to Know news

ANC's Auckland Park puppets censor the story of the year

It is just a fleeting moment of stunned surprise. The dawning realisation that the status quo has ineluctably changed and so too has any predictable future. (video)
The camera mercilessly captures it for posterity - the look on the face of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu on 21 December 1989. It is the defining moment which signalled the end of communism in Eastern Europe.

At 1:02 in the YouTube clip of his final speech in Bucharest the crowd starts booing and at 1:21 the producer at the state broadcaster cuts the transmission

Fast forward to 10 December, 2013, the day of the Nelson Mandela memorial service when there was a similar moment, one which could prove just as telling in our political history. Watch these clips which show President Jacob Zuma's face as the crowd erupted in furious booing.


Now watch the look of stunned surprise on the face of cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro (Zapiro) at 25 seconds into this YouTube clip as he struggles to articulate his amazement about what had happened and what the implications are.

However only those who watched the live SABC broadcast of the memorial service would have briefly seen this incident which was headlined locally by eNCA and, internationally, by every major news agency in the world. Those who were not able to watch the live SABC broadcast but only tuned into the SABC television news bulletins that night would not have seen anything in this regard.

The SABC appeared to be more than happy to repeatedly broadcast, (in all ethnic languages) Helen Zille being booed off stage on 1 November at the Saldanha Bay Industrial Development Zone by a rowdy crowd of bussed-in ANC supporters while Zuma looked on impassively - but it censored the broadcast when Zuma suffered the same fate.
The reason became apparent the next morning, 11 December, when City Press broke the story of scandalous SABC censorship by omission, an angle of the Madiba memorial service which has since been covered by major news agencies all over the world...

'While TV news broadcasters across the world led their bulletins with the booing of President Jacob Zuma at the memorial for Nelson Mandela yesterday, SABC's prime-time newscasts all but erased the incidents from history.

'City Press has learnt from six independent sources at the public broadcaster's news division that various instructions were given to ban broadcasts of the booing.

(On December, 15 City Press carried a graphic - the FNB Stadium applause-o-meter - which showed that while the crowd cheered most loudly for Barack Obama it booed Zuma on no less than four occasions - at 11:52 when he walked on stage, at noon when his face was shown on the big screen, again at 12:59 when his face was shown on the big screen and at 2:49 as he began his speech and, as a consequence, an exodus from the stadium started.)

If the City Press story was not true, then it was, by any standards, grossly defamatory because it attacked the professional integrity of Matthews, Molete, and their immediate superior, Hlaudi Motsoeneng. In effect, it accused them of abrogating their constitutional, legal, and ethical obligations and of bringing the SABC into disrepute.

If the story was not true then one would have expected the three men to immediately issue a statement denying the newspaper's allegations, to call a press conference and show clips from news bulletins to refute the City Press claim, to institute civil proceedings and to register a complaint with the press ombudsman.

This has not happened, even after the Mail & Guardian subsequently repeated the City Press story and their silence is damning.

The trio, who have shamed their profession, left it to the hapless Kaizer Kganyago to take the heat and, as always, it simply made one cringe.

Jacob Zuma enjoys his very own Helen Zille/Thabo Mbeki moment... not that he appeared to enjoy the experience overmuch. (Image extracted from YouTube video of Zuma being booed at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela)
He described the booing as a "side-story" and, as always, stated that it was up to the SABC's news division to use its editorial prerogative in deciding what is or is not news.

So, in the beleaguered mind of broadcasting's answer to Comical Ali, news coverage is vested not in the Constitution, the Broadcast Act or in the SABC's code of ethical news gathering but in the ideological whims of the ANC acolytes who, as proxies for Luthuli House, control what is broadcast from Auckland Park.

Rhoda Kadalie summed this up very succinctly in a Business Day column, "Déjà vu on SA Bootlicking Corporation TV" on 3 March 2005.

'The SABC's constant promotion of the ANC on its evening television news bulletins and its constant suppression of any news seen as inimical to its political masters is both illegal and illicit.

'It is illegal in terms of chapter three, section 10 (d) of the Broadcasting Act of 1999, which obligates the SABC to "provide significant news and public 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".

'It is illicit in terms of the SABC's own code of news ethics, which compels it to report in a neutral and objective way.'

William Bird of Media Monitoring Africa gave specific context to the censorship by omission which was manifest when the SABC did not carry the Zuma booing story in its news bulletins on 10 December.

'A clear violation of the SABC's Editorial code'

'In our view such an omission constitutes a clear breach of the following clauses of the SABC Editorial policies:
• "We report, contextualise, and present news and current affairs honestly by striving to disclose all the essential facts and by not suppressing relevant, available facts, or distorting by wrong or improper emphasis" pg. 20.
• "The Code of Conduct for Broadcasters also requires the SABC to report news truthfully, accurately and objectively. In this regard, the staff may not allow their professional judgment to be influenced by pressures from political, commercial or other sectional interests" pg. 20
• "SABC news staff are expected to present issues fairly, not to take sides, and to afford the public access to the full range of views on a subject. In this regard, editorial staff should not become emotional, or use emotive language, in writing stories or conducting interviews". Pg. 20

'Media Monitoring Africa has viewed the headline news bulletins from SABC1, SABC 2 and SABC 3 and can confirm that no mention of the booing incident was made in any of the bulletins.

'It is clear that the incident may perhaps not be the central news story of the day, given the event at which it took place. If we consider the stature of the speaker, the President of South Africa, and the importance of his speech, there can be little doubt that the story was newsworthy.

If true, the decision to deliberately omit the information constitutes a clear violation of the SABC's Editorial code.'

What is most troubling about the disgraceful party political bias of Motsoeneng, Matthews and Molete is that they were more than happy to repeatedly broadcast, in all ethnic languages, Helen Zille being booed off stage on 1 November at the Saldanha Bay Industrial Development Zone by a rowdy crowd of bussed-in ANC supporters while Zuma looked on impassively - but they censored the broadcast when he suffered the same fate.

But the censoring of the booing story by the this triumvirate was not the most shocking example of media bias - worse was to come and on a far bigger story. The booing was simply a reflection of the changing dynamics in our local politics - in the world view just an internecine squabble in the ruling party - tensions which are an inherent and integral part of democracy.

The really big story of the Mandela memorial service was that a schizophrenic man with a history of violence and unethical behaviour, Thamsanqa Jantjie, was, without adequate security checking, allowed to stand within metres of world leaders including Barack Obama.

The last time this happened in South Africa, on 6 September, 1966, Dimitri Tsafendas assassinated Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd in parliament.

Sign language interpreter was signing gibberish

At 9:38 on 11 December Charl Blignaut and Carien du Plessis posted a story on the City Press website about the fact that, the moment the live broadcast of the Nelson Mandela Memorial Service started, complaints flooded in from deaf people all over the world pointing out that the sign language interpreter standing only a few metres from international leaders such a President Barack Obama was a fake.

Not only was it a colossal embarrassment but it was also an unconscionable dereliction of duty by the ANC's risible "security cluster" which devotes every waking minute to Nkandla spin and damage control.

By midday on 11 December the story was being broadcast and posted on internet sites throughout the world. Unsurprisingly so because it was an even more scandalous breach of security than the now notorious invasion of Waterkloof Military Airbase by Zuma Inc's great patrons and benefactors, the partying Guptas.

Locally it was picked up and furiously re-tweeted and eNCA led bulletins with the story.

In its main 7 pm news bulletin eNCA had newsreader Jeremy Maggs interviewing Ingrid Parkin, principal of the St Ingrid School for the Deaf.

Another example: The BBC crossed to its local correspondent, Milton Nkosi who, mentioning the City Press article, brought his audience up to date on both the booing and the bogus sign language interpreter stories.

But, unsurprisingly, the state broadcaster controlled by the "famously matric-less" (as broadcasting authority Thinus Ferreira is wont to call him) Hlaudi Motsoeneng and his ever-willing and ever-supportive deputy Jimi Matthews, ensured that just as the booing had been suppressed on all SABC bulletins the previous day, so this story was as well.

By early the next morning, 12 December, Radio 702 had had traced Jantjie to his home in Soweto and he was interviewed by Jon Robbie.

He was subsequently interviewed by Michelle Clifford, Senior Correspondent with Sky News and also by Associated Press.

The SABC's deafening silence

By 15:54 the BBC posted a clip on its website of its reporter Ros Atkins interviewing Jantjie - but the SABC the biggest news organisation in the country with an estimated audience of some 30 million people - had, as yet, made no effort to cover a story which had broken a day and half before.

Faithfully, stoically, Motsoeneng, Matthews, and Molete waited for the go-ahead from the ANC and it came when Deputy Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Ms Henrietta Bogopane-Zulu called a press conference - strangely enough this was not held at the GCIS offices in Pretoria but at the SABC headquarters in Auckland Park. Why?

With extraordinary arrogance she told the world media that the ANC had nothing to be embarrassed about, something which left local journalists such as Greg Nicolson of Daily Maverick feeling ashamed.

That night, a comparison between the main 7 pm television news bulletins of eNCA and the SABC was telling.

e.tv led the bulletin with the Jantjie story with reporter Karyn Maughn providing context and information on his violent background and then carried an interview with Jantjie.

SABC's equivalent bulletin carried only the press conference after the main ad break with a brief, anodyne sound bite from the truculent minister and made no attempt to interview Jantjie even though he had been available for interviews more than 12 hours earlier.

The story cried out for second phase journalism and, with the exception of the state broadcaster, South African reporters were not found wanting.

The next morning, 13 December, Daily Dispatch reporter Zine George revealed how Jantjie had dropped out of primary school and never went to high school.

At midday eNCA broadcast a story by its specialist court reporter, Karyn Maughn, which revealed that Jantjie had faced charges of rape (1994), theft (1995), housebreaking (1997), malicious damage to property (1998), murder, attempted murder and kidnapping (2003) but that many of the charges were dropped because he was considered mentally unfit to stand trial. That night, more than seven hours after this damning evidence had been revealed by its rival, Motsoeneng, Matthews and Molete continued to observe the strict embargo placed on this story by the ANC.

Don't expect to see these 'side stories' on SABC

On December 15 the Sunday Times revealed that Jantjie, in an interview with the newspaper, revealed that, a decade ago he had been part of a mob that burnt a man to death. The newspaper also revealed that the company that employed Jantjie, South African Interpreters, was owned by the head of the ANC's religious and traditional affairs desk, Bantubahle Xozwa and that his wife, Cikizwa Xozwa, is the office manager for ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu. They also revealed that complaints had been lodged with the ANC about Jantjie's ineptitude by the South African Deaf Federation almost two years ago at the ANC's centenary celebration in Mangaung - without acknowledgment or response.

However, if you were reliant on the SABC for your news you would be unaware of any of these "side stories" because the state broadcaster has done no follow-up work or investigative reporting on this story at all.

A year ago I wrote a series of articles about the SABC's censorship by omission and neither the SABC nor the ANC has responded.

They want Zuma out

The South African taxpayers who have had to fork out more than R200m for Jacob Zuma's "security" at Nkandla and are now confronted by this debacle have every reason to be angry and a Sunday Times poll on December 15 showed that more than half of those polled want Zuma deposed. The FNB stadium booing that was censored by the SABC is thus no random flash in the pan.

The degree to which this colossal ANC blunder has further dented our image abroad can be gauged from this skit by American comedian Jimmy Kimmel that is featured on the website of the Los Angeles Times.

William Bird of Media Monitoring Africa has called for an urgent investigation:
'MMA calls on the SABC Editor in Chief, GCEO Lulama Mokhobo to carry out an urgent investigation and to brief the public on its terms, progress and outcomes, and we call on SABC news management to ensure it not only adheres to its editorial policies but practices the highest standards of ethical professional journalism.'

That is not going to happen. There is an election coming up and Luthuli House will be well-pleased with the SABC's approach to the booing of President Zuma and the Jantjie scandal. It is doing exactly what the ANC expects of a state broadcaster.

About Ed Herbst

Ed Herbst is an author and a prize-winning reporter. He worked for SABC television news for 28 years but left in 2005 without other employment in prospect because of the pervasive news and other corruption at all levels of the corporation. He is also a fly fishing enthusiast.
Richard Gee
do we still need to pay a TV licence fee when the SABC is now a political party? I would love a lawyer/advocate to take up this case.
Posted on 17 Dec 2013 15:12
Desiray Viney
Yep. It's a sad state of affairs. And as I watched SABC3 News last night - only a month after Madiba's death when all the ANC cronies promised to carry through the ideals of freedom and non-racialism - I wondered why the ANC and Zuma were given so much airtime to spread their toxic largesse (food & T-shirts) and racist propaganda to poor people who still don't experience true freedom.
Posted on 9 Jan 2014 15:05
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