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S.Africa state broadcaster accused of smothering debate

Published on 05/12/2012

South Africa's state broadcaster was accused of muzzling criticism of the ruling ANC on Wednesday, after it cancelled a talk show about the party's upcoming leadership conference just two minutes before airing.

S’thembiso Msomi, political editor of the Sunday Times, said he and two other leading independent journalists were waiting outside a MetroFM studio on Tuesday ready to go on air, when a senior SABC official phoned the producer and presenter to cancel the show.

Msomi said it appeared someone was “overzealous, and decided… to stop this show. And the way they did it, two minutes before the show starts,” left him “confused” and in “shock”, he said.

SABC’s boss Hlaudi Motsoeneng said the broadcaster cancelled the live show in the interest of “fairness” and “balance”.

“We are not banning anyone,” he said. “We are saying you should be fair to all citizens… and we have done that and we stick by that decision.”

The show would have discussed “issues related to the ANC without giving them an opportunity to respond. That would have not been a sound journalistic decision.”

The ANC has been pilloried ahead of the conference, which takes place in 11 days and which will decide who leads the party for the next five years.

The party and President Jacob Zuma have been accused of wanton corruption, of mismanaging the economy and of trying to stifle opposition.

The ANC Youth League, which has frequently tussled with the main party, expressed disgust at the SABC’s decision.

SABC “consistently fails to uphold objectivity in the execution of its mandate and has become a ridiculous pawn in the political theatre they are expected to impartially report on,” it said in a statement.

The opposition Democratic Alliance accused the SABC of “nurse-maiding the reputation” of Zuma and “curbing robust discussion” about the ANC’s conference.

The state broadcaster last month refused to air an advert for a fish and chips firm depicting President Jacob Zuma feeding his family on a budget meal.

It had earlier ordered journalists to stop referring to Zuma’s controversial taxpayer-renovated Nkandla home as a “homestead” or as “Zumaville.”

The ANC holds a crucial conference on December 16 at which Zuma is expected to be re-elected despite his waning popularity amid scandals.