SABC Censorship – SONA2015

The 2015 State of the Nation address (SONA2015) in South Africa serves as an interesting current case study for journalism and ethics majors around the world. The media events (or lack thereof) on the night of the address speaks to censorship by national broadcaster to protect the ruling party, and effectively a gag order of sorts imposed on the media by unlawfully jamming cellphone signals from the parliamentary chamber.

As per a report in City Press following the event, the local broadcaster, SABC, had refused to air video and audio of opposition parties being ejected from Parliament during the recent State of the Nation address. Further, the SABC Chief Operating Officer had banned the use of commentators on both radio and television during the address.

EFF removed from parliament by security forces

Julius Malema and the EFF ejected from parliament

There were also further allegations that four of the six news rival eNCA satellites had experienced signal jamming during the period of the broadcast. eNCA later verified that this was, in fact the case, and that the satellite lines were jammed “by an unknown rogue operator”.

“What is sinister about this is that the rogue operator is transmitting a data stream with no video, audio or transmitter information on it… It is hard for us not to suspect sabotage,” said Patrick Conroy (the Managing Director of eNCA).

In spite of this, all local broadcasters used the same feed from Parliament, and yet the SABC’s coverage of the event differed from other channels. The Parliament TV feed, in particular, did not show the opposition EFF party led by the controversial figure Julius Malema, being violently removed by a combination of Parliamentary security and the South African Police service. Following their ejection from the chamber, the walkout by the strongest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, was also not aired.

Hannes du Buisson, the president of the Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers’ Union, was quoted as saying:

“It has been reported by members who overheard conversations on comms and in the control room that a senior news boss instructed the director not to cut away from the feed.”

However, a number of other staff members working on the SONA2015 broadcast said the instructions on what to air and what not to came directly from Jimi Matthews, the SABC’s group executive of news and current affairs.

EFF threat to disrupt parliament image

EFF publicly declared their strategy to disrupt the parliamentary session

On a different issue of censorship, the parliamentary session began with a stream of voiced objections since mobile phone signals were unlawfully jammed in the vicinity. Again, given that the threat of disruption was present (and publicly announced), many of these actions appear premeditated by the National Executive. If this is the case, this certainly does not bode well for freedom of speech in South Africa.

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Local politicians appear to be becoming more Draconian in their measures when it comes to the media and regulating freedom of speech. With recent events, like those in France with Charlie Hebdo, the aspects of free speech vs what may be considered inflammatory (e.g. Mohammed images and other culturally insensitive cartoons), or those that can be considered of hindering the broader social good (e.g. articles encouraging people to play lottery or even simply discussing the validity of gambling on online casinos in South Africa in articles or on websites like these, have come to the fore.

Given the diverse moral views of various parties on such topics, censorship is being used increasingly to appease minority groups and the political elite. Ultimately, there needs to be some sort of independent watchdog that will help protect freedom of speech, from both broadcasters, and other social and political stakeholders.

The Marikana Massacre

Lonmin Marikana violence photoThe massacre of 34 people by police in Marikana, South Africa last week shocked not only locals, but the world. The conflict has many dimensions but the chief factors that led to it are being analysed in a very thorough way by the media, numerous political entities and NGOs.

The analysis will show two things for certain: that the mining industry must once and for all be shaken out of its neo-liberal, ANC supported, ‘profit at all costs’ mentality and assume proper social responsibility or face radical opposition which may lead to nationalisation; and that the trade unions active in it must wake up and service their members in a far more proactive and comprehensive way so as to offer real leadership and protection from exploitation.

Even a cursory glance at the background to the Lonmin miners’ revolt demonstrates the following:

  1. That the company violated an in-force wage agreement by unilaterally giving a section of the work-force an increase thereby creating massive tensions within the ranks of those who did not receive the unprocedural increase; this is yet another example of company contempt for building genuine industrial relations based on a partnership that benefits all stakeholders and respects labour law;
  2. That the majority union, NUM, did not act timeously nor effectively deal with this unfair labour practice; that its leadership has for some time been completely out of touch with the rank and file membership and hides behind the police and the company;
  3. that the minority union, AMCU, had neither the authority nor leadership capacity to guide workers intelligently with the result that wild expectations of immediate and massive increases were built up; new unions challenging for organisational rights must be careful not to incite workers with populist rhetoric that can have no positive result;
  4. That the squatter camps surrounding the platinum mines in particular (but not exclusively) are a time-bomb waiting to explode because both the mining companies and government are leaving them to fester without most of the basic services that people need and keep demanding; that the migrant labour system (which we thought had ended with apartheid) is still very much alive and is leading to major tensions between migrant workers and local communities who ought to have first choice of local labour opportunities;
  5. That provision of decent housing for miners is still a major problem and needs an urgent industry/government response; the lack of sufficient properly serviced housing leads to a multitude of social problems in the areas adjoining the mines as thousands of single men lack the stabilising influences of the families they have left elsewhere;
  6. That the super profits realised by the platinum industry over the last decade be taxed at a higher rate than is currently the case so as to benefit the communities living along the platinum reef;
  7. That the ANC must wake up to the fact that such revolts will become endemic if its fat-cat, business bias mentality does not change and change fast; if the rot has gone too far for reform of the organisation then South Africa will slide into a new period of militarised dictatorship as the black elite uses the police and armed forces to control working class anger and frustration stemming from abysmal living standards and conditions while seeing the elite enjoying lives of luxury;
  8. That the crowd control training given to the police is grossly inadequate and that its leadership is similarly ill-equipped to deal with flash points like strikes and other demonstrations of mass anger;
  9. That the need for an over-arching social contract (an economic Codesa) has never been more urgent – otherwise the fruits of a relatively successful political settlement will entirely dissipate and our society will again be faced by massive instability and violence.

SAPS shooting at Marikana photoGiven the above points, we may come to see the Marikana Massacre as an important watershed. The tragedy has thrown the contradictions inherent in our society into very sharp relief and demands firm and decisive action from all parties if they are to be resolved. Indeed, the responses by all parties to the conflict will be critical to our future, not only in the mining sector, but across the board. Big business must wake up to its responsibilities – not only to its direct shareholders but to the wider society within which it operates. And if the ANC cannot guide such development effectively then workers will soon draw their conclusions and form a political organisation that can truly advance their interests.

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