Mr Hlaudi Motsoeneng
Chief Operations Officer
South African Broadcasting Corporation
1 July 2016
We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries, to register our grave concern over reports of a growing tendency towards censorship and the erosion of editorial independence at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).
We have been particularly outraged by the decision to suspend three senior journalists who had raised concerns over the shift in editorial policy ahead of the August 2016 local government elections, which they felt violated the editorial charter of the public broadcaster. At the same time, three additional journalists from the broadcaster are reportedly facing disciplinary action for speaking their minds regarding the erosion of editorial independence at SABC.
Recent reports indicate that you have been making deliberate efforts to muzzle the public broadcaster by, for instance, banning the coverage of any “public violence” and “destruction of property during protest”, even when such is clearly in the public interest. Furthermore, we learn that the SABC has suspended the coverage of newspaper headlines as part of screening 'unwanted' images of public violence.
We are deeply concerned that the recent decisions taken by management at the SABC pose a serious threat to media freedom, the rights of journalists to report without fear or favour on matters of public interest, and present a worrying trend of editorial interference by senior management at the public broadcaster.
On Monday, acting SABC Chief Executive Jimi Matthews resigned, citing a “corrosive atmosphere” at the broadcaster. In a deeply concerning escalation, three more journalists were yesterday charged with misconduct for “liaising with the media” without authorisation from their managers. It has been reported that the three journalists wrote to you, lashing out at censorship at the broadcaster.
We would like to remind you that the public broadcaster plays a vital role in the democratic life of South Africa, particularly in the lead up to the highly contested local government elections in August. The push for censorship and the clampdown on journalists simply exercising their duty to report accurately and truthfully is a grave threat to media freedom and cannot be tolerated.
We join with numerous calls for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of misconduct charges against all the affected SABC journalists. We call on SABC management to respect constitutional provisions for media freedom, journalists’ rights and the public’s right to information.
We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
World Editors Forum
WAN-IFRA is the global organisation for the world’s newspapers and news publishers, with formal representative status at the United Nations, UNESCO and the Council of Europe. The organisation groups 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries.