Publication: Business Day Issued: Date: 2003-09-02 Reporter: Linda Ensor

SABC Chief to Probe Claims of Politics Gag



Business Day

Date 2003-09-02


Linda Ensor

Web Link


Cape Town - South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) CEO Peter Matlare has ordered an investigation into a controversial e-mail note sent to presenters and producers last week, barring them from talking politics outside current affairs programmes.

While the SABC management has denied gagging presenters, the Democratic Alliance (DA) is in possession of another letter, bearing public service radio head Judy Nokwedi's signature, which sends the same message.

This has led to another charge of editorial interference against the broadcaster's management.

The e-mailed letter came into the hands of DA communications spokeswoman Dene Smuts, who is expected to raise the question of censorship today when SABC executives present the public broadcaster's annual financial results to Parliament's communications portfolio committee.

According to Moneyweb, the e-mail sent to on-air presenters and producers reads: "I am, therefore, instructing all stations to categorically ensure that all programmes, content and talk shows that may vie in the direction of political discourse be avoided absolutely."

Nokwedi said the instruction took immediate effect, and was due to what had happened last Wednesday when presenter and talk show host Vuyo Mbuli hosted an After Eight Debate on SAfm.

The debate focused on Deputy President Jacob Zuma, who is embroiled in a corruption scandal. Opposition party leaders including DA leader Tony Leon, Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille, United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa and Minister in the President's Office Essop Pahad participated in the discussion.

Smuts welcomed Matlare's reassurance that radio presenters were free to discuss any issue they chose provided they kept head of radio news Pippa Green informed. Green was responsible for ensuring the balance and fairness of reports.

There was "enormous public concern about the implications for our democracy, and listeners have every right to ventilate their views", said Smuts.

Moneyweb said earlier that SABC insiders were fuming over the instruction. Matlare was said to be surprised initially to learn of the e-mail, suggesting censorship allegations may have arisen from a misunderstanding over internal communications ahead of next year's general election.

Matlare suggested to Moneyweb that "mischief makers" within the SABC were to blame for misconstruing instructions ahead of the poll.

Moneyweb said the note read: "As from now, and until further notice, no programme of a "political nature" may be done outside the time allocated to news and current affairs.

"In particular, this refers to the Zuma affair', which from now on may only be discussed on (news and current affairs) programmes," it said.

With acknowledgements to Linda Ensor and the Business Day.