Communications minister Faith Muthambi says that there is no censorship crisis at the SABC, and that the matter has been sensationalised by other media houses.
The minister was speaking about the controversy around the SABC for the first time since backing the SABC’s policy to ban “violent protest” footage and other media news headlines from broadcast.
The policy was met with wide criticism, and was successfully challenged in court, and deemed illegal by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa).
Following the fallout – which saw several SABC journalists suspended and then fired for speaking out against the broadcaster – Muthambi was ‘summoned’ to explain the situation to senior ANC officials earlier in July, but snubbed the meeting.
Speaking at a community newspaper breakfast in Pretoria on Thursday, Muthambi effectively dismissed the entire saga as an overreaction by other media houses.
According to Muthambi, the SABC has to provide a counter view to mainstream media which has taken the position that the government is ineffective.
Muthambi said that the SABC policy did not amount to censorship – despite court and regulatory rulings saying otherwise – calling the controversy “hype”.
“There’s been a hype, and the people are saying ‘where’s the minister of communication? Why is she so quiet?’ – Not that we don’t know what to say. Censorship? I don’t know what you mean by censorship,” she said.
The minister suggested that mainstream media is pushing anti-government propaganda, and it is the SABC’s mandate to inform and educate the populace.
“We’re feeding our people to believe that there’s nothing happening in the country?…We cannot allow the public to be continue to be misled,” she said.
Muthambi has been an avid supporter of SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng, who is behind many of the controversial decisions taken by the broadcaster in recent months, including its censorship policy.
Despite findings from the Public Protector that Motsoeneng is unfit for the position – and a High Court ruling saying he should be dismissed – Muthambi ensured that Motsoeneng was permanently appointed to the role, and continues to defend his position in court at the expense of taxpayers.
The SABC’s censorship policy has now been revoked, and the journalists fired for standing against it are back at work, despite the broadcaster’s defiance at every step.