Never before in the history of the IFP have we marched on the South African Broadcasting Corporation. We do this today in recognition of the fact that we have tried every other avenue of engaging the SABC to address the entrenched political bias evident in our public broadcaster.
For almost two decades we have engaged the SABC asking that it level the playing field which so favours the ruling ANC. We have held meetings and written letters. We have talked and negotiated. We have reasoned, explained and pointed out the SABC’s mandate to be the voice of all South Africans.
Yet still the SABC continues to ignore the IFP. Our rallies and events are kept off the screen and off the airwaves, while smaller parties receive coverage, and the ANC takes the lion’s share. This is not surprising. But it is wrong.
It is not surprising because, since 1994, the ANC in Parliament has hand-picked every SABC Board Member, and the ANC has had the final say in the appointment of all Executive Officers of the SABC. Thus political interference has been built into the system and ruthlessly exploited by the ANC-alliance.
The IFP has repeatedly raised alarm bells over political interference within the public broadcaster. Time and again we have advocated in Parliament that the selection of the SABC Board be removed from the grasp of politicians. It is unacceptable that our public broadcaster’s Board Members and Executives are appointed and controlled by the ruling party.
The overwhelming anti-IFP trend in the SABC is well established. It did not begin in 1994. It was born during Apartheid, but has somehow survived eighteen years into democracy.
Several years ago, I was approached by a former SABC senior executive who apologetically admitted to me that he had received instruction from the then Prime Minister, Mr PW Botha, that Buthelezi was not to be shown on television. This was confirmed by the late Mr Charles Fiddian-Green, former Executive Director of Safmarine. Thus the instruction to keep Buthelezi off the air became entrenched SABC policy.
Today the IFP could compile a lengthy dossier of occasions on which the SABC has ignored our Party since 1994. Let me mention just a few obvious and recent occasions.
In April, the IFP held a massive Freedom Day celebration, which we advertised as an event to celebrate our own heroes and heroines of the liberation struggle. I made it clear that I would not attend Government’s events at the Union Buildings nor in KwaZulu Natal.
We chose to celebrate separately because the ANC, in marking the centenary, is giving no recognition to the many South Africans who waged the liberation struggle outside the ANC. We took this opportunity to address issues of reconciliation.
A week and a half before the event, the SABC was invited to attend the IFP’s celebration. Yet we were snubbed. According to the SABC, there was not enough staff available to cover Freedom Day events other than the main event in Pretoria and KwaZulu Natal. Yet on the seven o’clock news they gave coverage to the DA as well as the PAC.
We engaged the SABC in KwaZulu Natal in August and put forward a memorandum of grievances. These included the SABC’s tendency to seek interviews with me, as the IFP President, when these interviews will never see the light of day.
When President Zuma launched a stinging attack on the IFP during his live Mandela Centenary Lecture, which the SABC covered in full, my response was recorded in an interview with the SABC in Durban. But it was never broadcast. When the SABC made a mistake in its reports on the Zululand Traditional elections, I travelled from Ulundi to set the record straight on camera. But it was never broadcast.
The IFP has been forced to approach the Broadcasting Complaints Commission over the SABC’s decision to broadcast programmes that place the IFP in a negative light. On the rare occasion the SABC does show the IFP on the news, the story is edited in such a way that it loses its meaning. Newsworthy messages of interest are overlooked, while brief sound bites are used that carry no real message.
We have pointed out to the SABC that the IFP is the third largest political party in the country. Nationally, we are the second largest opposition party, and we are the Official Opposition in KwaZulu Natal. Yet they fail to seek the IFP’s comment on important issues of the day. All of this is in addition to the SABC’s continual failure to cover important IFP events.
When we met with the SABC on the 3rd of August, we negotiated in good faith around these points. Yet, just a few days later, they failed to give any coverage to a massive Women’s Day rally we held in Ugu, KwaZulu Natal.
Clearly, this was another example of the SABC snubbing the IFP and keeping Buthelezi off the screen. It is shocking that in a democratic South Africa our public broadcaster can act like a state broadcaster, exactly as it did during Apartheid.
When it comes to the SABC, the playing fields are skewed in favour of the ANC. Before elections, ANC rallies receive extensive coverage. The ANC’s centenary rallies and lectures receive live television and radio coverage, often extending far longer than an hour! President Zuma is routinely given live one-hour prime-time television coverage. It is just ANC, ANC wherever you look.
We respect the fact that the Head of News, Mr Jimi Matthews, is working to build a newsroom which reflects a variety of political voices. We are not here to fight. We are here to urge the SABC forward towards a level playing field. We want opposition parties to be represented fairly on all of our public broadcaster's radio and television channels. We want the public broadcaster to become a public broadcaster.
We have taken to the streets today to demand fairness from the SABC. We do this on behalf of all South Africans, who have a right to be treated with respect, and not force-fed political propaganda. Our citizens should not be manipulated. We have a right to fair, unbiased news and coverage that enables everyone to freely make up our own mind about whom we wish to support. This goes to the heart of democracy.
Today, we will put before the SABC a memorandum of demands, in the hope that the decades-old trend of ignoring the IFP will finally come to an end. We do this in the interests of all South Africa.