SABC Ombudsman ruling: Six separate sources claimed SABC banned Mbeki
The Press Ombudsman's dismissal of a complaint lodged by the SABC, over a Sunday Times story detailing the public broadcaster's purported ban on coverage featuring Thabo Mbeki, is deeply significant.
A copy of the Ombudsman's finding can be found online.
It demonstrates that the SABC almost certainly orchestrated a moratorium on all coverage featuring the former president, and that there is overwhelming evidence - based on five separate sources (a sixth emerged subsequent to the publication of the article) - that bears these claims out.
The Ombudsman dismissed the SABC's complaints that the story was "not truthful, accurate and fair", did not "publish the facts fairly with due regard to content", did not "give news in context and in a balanced manner" or "amount[ed] to distortion, exaggeration and misrepresentation and contain[ed] material omissions" - though he did order that one mistake made by the Sunday Times be corrected.
The Ombudsman also revealed that the five sources from the SABC which were quoted by the Sunday Times were:
• A senior manager who had attended a meeting of senior news executives in which Phil Molefe had informed them of the ban;
• An unspecified person who had received an instruction from the head of TV news to carry out Molefe's ban;
• An unspecified person who had received a similar instruction from his/her line manager; and
• Two [SABC] reporters who had been instructed not to report on Mbeki.
In addition, the Ombudsman's report highlights the fact that a sixth source - a "high-level SABC employee" confirmed the contents of the Sunday Times's story after its publication. As the Ombudsman points out: "The newspaper's argument that all its sources told it the same story has to count for something. When five people, from different levels (ranging from a senior manager, to a line-manager, to reporters) all tell the same story, it indeed becomes reasonable for the newspaper to publish that story."
At the time that the story broke, we expressed our concern that it indicated that the SABC was actively furthering the political agenda of the governing party, and was acting in a way that could not be regarded as appropriate for an impartial and independent news provider. The Ombudsman's ruling only underscores these concerns. In fact, the ruling makes it clear that there is much more evidence of the existence of such a moratorium than we were initially aware of (the original Sunday Times article appeared to rely on only one source). This fuels concerns that the SABC is now essentially carrying out the mandate of Luthuli House in its television and radio programming.
Two other facts that emerged from the Ombudsman's ruling speak volumes:
Firstly, the SABC's representative stated that Mr. Molefe "does not want to testify" to the Ombudsman. As the Ombudsman's points out, this is "strange, as he was a key person to the story...[and] did not help much to convince the panel of the claimed untruthfulness of the newspaper's story."
Secondly, the public broadcaster made a great fuss about the fact that Mr. Mbeki had been the subject of a "live interview" on SABC on July 2nd - which the broadcaster claimed contradicted the Sunday Times's stance on the existence of a moratorium. This, the Ombudsman points out, is inaccurate. In fact the SABC "conceded, towards the end of the hearings, that there had not been a ‘live interview' with Mbeki... [but rather that] there was some pre-recorded footage of Mbeki at the Ghana flag-signing ceremony."
The DA will pose further parliamentary questions on this matter, and ensure that Mr. Molefe appears before Parliament to account for his actions. We clearly cannot allow a situation in which Luthuli House is allowed to dictate to the SABC what it can and cannot cover.