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Monocolumn: Power And Propaganda At The Voice Of The People

Monocolumn: Power And Propaganda At The Voice Of The People
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Rampant political interference at South Africa’s public broadcaster has been the rainbow nation’s worst-kept secret for years. Late last month, however, it gained legal authority with an explosive judgment handed down by a Johannesburg high court.

Monocle
  • 8 february 2011

Monocolumn is Monocle’s daily bulletin of news and opinion. Catch up with previous editions here.

Rampant political interference at South Africa’s public broadcaster has been the rainbow nation’s worst-kept secret for years. Late last month, however, it gained legal authority with an explosive judgment handed down by a Johannesburg high court.

In 2006, the Sowetan newspaper revealed that the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s (SABC) then head of news, Snuki Zikalala, had banned several journalists and commentators perceived as critical to the ANC ruling party from the airwaves. After the blacklist was denied, John Perlman, a respected talk show host then employed by the SABC, confirmed its existence.

The Freedom of Expression Institute requested that the broadcasting regulator investigate. When it refused (claiming the allegations were beyond its remit), the media rights watchdog took it to court.

In a devastating judgment, Judge CJ Claasen stated that SABC “manipulated its news and current affairs… dishonestly tried to cover up this manipulation when it was publicly revealed, and that the SABC’s Board subsequently failed to take any action when the manipulation and dishonest cover-up was exposed by its own Commission of Enquiry.”

Claasen revealed that Zikalala skewed coverage of Zimbabwe’s rigged 2005 elections in favour of President Mugabe. In the same year, when a reporter filed reports of bottles being pelted at the premier of KwaZulu-Natal province during an ANC rally, Zikalala intervened to prevent this appearing on the evening TV news. He also allowed the premier airtime to deny what had happened, and for the politician’s bodyguards to intimidate the journalist in the studio.

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