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Police brutality: SABC 'in trouble' over footage of dead protester

The SABC is in 'deep trouble' over the footage of a brutal beating to death of a Free State protester by cops, shown this week on its TV news bulletins. As the images grip the nation with grief and anger, the ruling ANC has called on regulator ICASA to investigate the public broadcaster for a possible breach of its mandate, while Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) said it was concerned about discrepancies in how the story was reported.
Police brutality: SABC 'in trouble' over footage of dead protester

"We are concerned that the public broadcaster showed such shocking and disturbing images on its prime time news slot with disregard to young viewers, and other sensitive people who obviously would have been disturbed to various degrees by such images," ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said in a statement posted on the party's website.

"We therefore call upon the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa to investigate whether the public broadcaster has not overstepped its mandate in this regard."

Yesterday afternoon, Thursday, 14 April 2011, The Star newspaper splashed in its front page five pictures of cops savaging Andries Tatane (33), a teacher, during a 'service delivery' protest. Four pictures were taken from the SABC news clip and one from Beeld.

"Told it was it was"

A source close to the public broadcaster told last night: "I don't know what the fuss is all about. Our guys were there, they caught the action live and later told it as it was. If this thing was not shown on TV, I am sure it wouldn't have generated such a heated debate.

"Police brutality as it happened in the Free State must be exposed at all costs. Instead of getting upset about the SABC footage, we should rather stage massive protests against such acts of brutality and call for bandit cops to face justice and be fired from the police force."

While the MMA welcomed the decision by SABC to give such prominence and attention to the death of a citizen following an incident of police brutality, it however said the manner in which the incident was covered by SABC's different television services raises number of key issues.

Police brutality: SABC 'in trouble' over footage of dead protester

"Only in limited circumstances"

"We believe that footage of extreme violence and brutality should only be shown where there is a clearly identifiable public interest and only then in limited circumstances," MMA director William Bird said in a statement issued yesterday.

"This view is supported by the Broadcasters' Code of Conduct, as well as SABC's own editorial policies," Bird pointed out.

The MMA's view is that both primetime news bulletins on SABC2 and 3 complied with their editorial commitments 'to use some form of audience advisory to give advance notice when violence is to be shown'.

"For this they are to be commended. However SABC1's news bulletin, which was broadcast half an hour later, contained no advisory warning. We strongly condemn SABC1's failure to warn viewers in advance," Bird said.

Clear inconsistencies

MMA, which slammed the public broadcaster for exposing violence while ignoring ethics, said an overt human rights violation may have been undermined by the broadcaster's clear inconsistencies in reporting the incident.

Twitter has been abuzz with fierce debate over whether the SABC was right or wrong in airing the footage. Media Matters (@MediaMattersZA), an initiative of the MMA, reported on Twitter last night that SABC1 ran a crawler during the channel's flagship soap, Generations, apologising to its viewers for airing sensitive news footage without warning.

Bird told this morning that his organisation is satisfied that the public broadcaster has finally acknowledged its mistake and apologised to its viewers. "This is what we were wishing for," he said.

Police brutality: SABC 'in trouble' over footage of dead protester

"We can't say anything at the moment"

Approached for comment, SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said last night: "ICASA has not said anything to us - for now. Therefore we can't say anything at the moment. And I will not answer to you or to any media for fear that newspapers and websites might go to ICASA and say, "This is what the SABC said and what do you say?'

"And the whole investigation will be done through the media platform. As far as I know, it is the ANC that is talking to ICASA to investigate us, but not directly talking to us."

About Issa Sikiti da Silva

Issa Sikiti da Silva is a winner of the 2010 SADC Media Awards (print category). He freelances for various media outlets, local and foreign, and has travelled extensively across Africa. His work has been published both in French and English. He used to contribute to as a senior news writer.

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