SABC COO at odds with freedom of speech

The proposal by acting SABC chief operations officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng that journalists be given a licence to practice reveals his ignorance about journalistic practice in a democracy, Sanef said on Friday.

“The SA National Editors’ Forum condemns the proposal,” it said in a statement.

“It is unfortunate that the remarks come from a high-ranking official of the public broadcaster, one of the biggest media houses in the country. The proposal is at odds with freedom of speech which is enshrined in the Constitution.”

On Thursday, Motsoeneng proposed that journalists have a licence to practice like those in the medical and law professions.

He said journalists who acted unprofessionally should be stripped of their licences.

“You know when you are a journalist, you are a professional journalist. If you don’t have ethics and principles and you mislead on your reporting, like lawyers… if you commit any mistake they take your licence,” he was quoted as saying by the SABC.

“We should do the same thing with journalists, that is what we need to do if we want to build South Africa.”

He was speaking at the annual Joburg Radio Days at Wits University in Johannesburg.

Sanef said that in many dictatorships and authoritarian countries journalists were forced to register and obtain licences to work.

“These governments do this so that they can control the gathering and publication of news by journalists,” it said.

“In such countries, publication of stories which disclose official misconduct, abuse of power, corruption, cronyism and nepotism would be described as unprofessional or harmful to the state and the licence of the journalists writing them would be withdrawn.”

Sanef said a licence would be used as a tool by authorities that journalists in democracies have rejected.

“Motsoeneng has already demonstrated his ignorance of journalistic practice and principle by trying to prescribe to SABC journalists to broadcast 70% ‘good news’ about the government with 30% relegated for the so-called ‘negative’ news.”

The forum said the media had devised a system of regulation in South Africa by an ombudsman and a retired High Court judge to deal with journalistic practice that contravened its code of conduct.

In February, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela released a report “When governance and ethics fail” which found Motsoeneng’s SABC appointment irregular. Among other things, his salary increased from R1.5 million to R2.4 million in one year.

She found he misrepresented his qualifications – that he passed matric – to the SABC, and recommended he be replaced.

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SABC COO at odds with freedom of speech