It is simply astounding to note that SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago has admitted that, in addition to attempting to sell space on flagship current affairs show Interface, the SABC has also been receiving payment from government in return for their appearance on SABC 2 news programme Morning Live, and unnamed radio shows. Mr. Kganyago made these starting admissions in this morning's Cape Times, in response to a statement I issued yesterday, exposing the SABC's scandalous request for R217,700 from the DA's Western Cape provincial government in exchange for positive programming content on Interface - an offer that my colleagues in the province flatly rejected.
Mr. Kganyago's admission throws into stark relief the situation at the SABC. We have reached the stage where the SABC is being paid directly by the ANC government to broadcast its message. That is simply untenable. It makes a mockery of journalistic standards, constitutes nothing less than propaganda, and is a deliberate attempt to mislead the South African public.
It is disturbing that Mr. Kganyago attempts to justify the SABC's actions by claiming that what has happened is analogous to the use of newspaper advertorials. That is completely disingenuous. Mr. Kganyago acts as if there is no difference between commercial advertising and hard news content. If a newspaper runs an advertorial, it is clearly labeled as such and is not disguised as news or opinion presented objectively on its own merits. Likewise, it is accepted practice that a television programme that presents itself as an objective news programme should make judgments about what content to run, and what not to run, based solely upon the objective criteria of what is newsworthy. The fact is, these programmes - Interface, Morning Live and the unidentified radio programmes - are broadcasting government propaganda, on condition of being paid for it, and they are presenting these items as if they were ordinary news content. That is absolutely scandalous.
Mr. Kganyago also seems blissfully unaware that his very defence of the SABC's conduct makes two startling concessions. The first is that the SABC cannot manage its own basic finances as received from the public and government bail-outs to maintain its news and current affairs programming. Indeed, the SABC itself alluded to the fact that it was in serious financial difficulties in the meeting with the Western Cape Provincial government. The second is that its Current Affairs team seems incapable of a basic budget meeting, where they schedule programmes which they know they cannot afford.
Finally, Mr. Kganyago claims that the Western Cape Government accepted the proposal in principle. This is untrue. Either Mr. Kganyago has not spoken with Mzukisi Twala, who made the proposal to the Provincial government which was flatly rejected, or the SABC is merely compounding its unethical behavior by deliberately attempting to distort the truth. Either way, we should all be concerned.
The SABC's ethical standards are significant in and of themselves. However, there is a much deeper issue of government communications at stake here. The DA has only been in government for over a year. The ANC has been in national and various provincial governments for 16 years. We are forced to ask, is there a history of mutually beneficial relationships between different ANC governments and the SABC and how extensive is that history? The South African public, which relies greatly on the SABC as a primary source of broadcast media, deserve to know the full extent of the collusion of the SABC and different provincial governments in this particular affair. I shall be requesting that my colleagues in the various provincial legislatures across the country pose questions to their respective Premiers, asking whether such an offer as the Western Cape Provincial Government received was made to their governments, if so how much did they pay and who made the decision to spend public money.
But the DA shall not stop there. The SABC's deeply problematic attitude to this whole affair has betrayed a critical misunderstanding of the basic ethics of journalism and budgetary constraints. Indeed, Mr. Kganyago has suggested that this is all really good practice for flagship SABC ‘news' programmes such as Interface and Morning Live. He clearly is not overly concerned about the integrity of these programmes, however, that is not to say that we, and the South African public, are not. As such, I shall be asking the National Minister of Communications which ‘news' programmes have standard practice of charging for ‘overheads,' how long has this practice been going on and whether it is as a direct result of the SABC being unable to manage the funds it receives from the South African public.