Once again, and for the wrong reasons, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) is in the news. This time the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, Julius Malema, has threatened to lead a march to the public broadcaster and encourage marchers to burn their TV licences.
Though it is Malema's right to lead a lawful march against any public institution, we have to express a grave concern for the narrowing space in which journalists at the SABC have to work.
Any antagonism directed at the broadcaster affects its staff who, during fieldwork, interact with members of the public every day.
Virtually all of the SABC's news staff merely want to be allowed to carry on with their work as professionals, and to leave politics to the politicians. It is tragic and unfortunate that the political machinations that have dogged the institution for years have unfairly soiled SABC staffers' professional integrity, and now threaten to alienate them from the public they are doing their best to serve.
Two parties can help to create the space for journalists to work at the SABC.
The first is Communications Minister Faith Muthambi, who should set a tone that shows the government will not unduly interfere with its work for political purposes. Alas, reports of her alleged role in the permanent appointment of Hlaudi Motsoeneng to the position of chief operating officer do not help this cause at all. If anything, they provide fertile ground for Malema and others to encourage revolt against such a key institution.
The SABC board can also play a decisive role in creating a friendlier environment for its journalists. The most important would be to assert its independence from political interference, and to rein in the excesses of Motsoeneng, as suggested by the public protector. By all accounts his name has been the most common denominator in many of the problems that have afflicted the SABC.
The national broadcaster should be the jewel in the crown of South African broadcast journalism, where the most promising and talented want to work. It should also be at the forefront of telling the South African and African story to the world, instead of being the subject of political speeches, litigation and countless scandals.
Source: Business Day, via I-Net Bridge