Publication: Cape Times Issued: Date: 2003-09-03 Reporter: Sapa

SABC Boss Matlare Denies He Tried to Gag Presenters From Discussing Politics



Cape Times

Date 2003-09-03



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South African Broadcasting Corporation chief executive Peter Matlare has dismissed media allegations that the public broadcaster is attempting to "gag" presenters from discussing politics outside current affairs programmes.

In a statement handed out during Matlare's media presentation in parliament on the SABC's latest annual report yesterday, he said: "There is absolutely no truth to those allegations."

The issue came to the fore in an e-mail to staff written by Mike Roberts, in which his designation is given as acting station manager and programme manager. He said he had been "instructed by Head of Service" that: "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 current affairs programmes.

"I do not have any written instruction, and if you find the above confusing in any way, please call me".

Asked for comment, the SABC on Monday denied that a gag had been placed on the Zuma story.

However, the Broadcast Electronic Media and Allied Workers Union (Bemawu) said it would take the SABC to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission regardless of the denial, saying Roberts was acting on behalf of management, and the matter was clearly an attempt to gag the presenters and prevent debate on Zuma.

Yesterday Matlare said the issue had been misunderstood, and the public broadcaster had a structure that "few print media understand" .

He said a document, written by SABC head of public service radio Judy Nwokedi, had instructed station managers to enforce the order.

Nwokedi apparently said in the document that in the run-up to the elections, "various attempts for political jostling will be made by politicians across the country".

Thus, all programmes, content and talk shows that "may vie in the direction of political discourse" had to be absolutely avoided.

The chief executive had made a decision that "editorially all this content will be driven by news".

No exceptions would be made, and "news and current affairs divisions will ensure coverage on matters that are political", she wrote.

In his statement yesterday, Matlare said the decision around this matter was designed to promote editorial independence, accountability, and fairness, particularly in view of the coming general elections.

"It is not an attempt to interfere with media independence as alleged. These principles are contained in the draft editorial policies that have been published by the SABC."

The corporation was committed to ensuring fair coverage of all political activities prior to the elections, Matlare said.

TV and radio worked closely together to ensure viewers' and listeners' interests were served.

Matlare said their editorial credibility stood or fell on their independence.

With acknowledgements to Sapa and the Cape Times.