No empirical evidence was used to back up the SABC’s decision to ban coverage of violent protests, an Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) public hearing was told on Friday.
“Is there any evidence that would indicate that the visuals are inciting more violence? Because Tshwane has been burning with or without cameras,” Jacob Medupe asked Bantubonke Regent Tokota SC, representing the public broadcaster.
Medupe is a member of Icasa’s complaints and compliance committee, which held a public hearing into SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s decision.
“The empirical evidence is important,” Medupe told Tokota.
Tokota said due to the urgent nature of the hearing, his team had not had a chance to collect any.
“If we had time maybe we would have brought that empirical evidence. All we are relying on is the legal aspect,” he said.
Opposition parties and media groups have criticised Motsoeneng’s decision, which he announced in May. He argued that showing footage of the destruction of public property would encourage others to do the same.
Tokota earlier told the committee that protesters often got excited when they saw cameras recording them. Airing such footage would incite violence, which was against the constitution, he said.
Gilbert Marcus SC, representing the complainants Media Monitoring Africa, Save Our SABC Coalition, and the Freedom of Expression Institute, told the hearing that the SABC’s argument was flawed.
“They cannot source this power to impose this blanket ban in the constitution. It has to be sourced in law and he has failed to provide anything which would lawfully entitle such a decision,” Marcus said.
He accused Motsoeneng of basing his decision on “mere presumption”.
“It is a fallacy to assume that mere portrayal of violent protests has the potential of inciting violence.”
He said it was the public broadcaster’s job to provide context to the events it reported on.
Marcus asked the committee to find that the SABC had breached its obligation to provide honest and accurate information to its viewers.
Tokota said the SABC would still report on protests, but only air footage of the aftermath of any violence, not the acts of destruction themselves.
“The SABC is not saying it is not going to give you the information, but it will edit this information. There is nothing wrong with our statement and the complaints are unfounded,” Tokota said.
Earlier, the SABC said it had served suspension letters on three of its employees.
News24 understood that economics editor Thandeka Gqubule, RSG executive producer Foeta Krige, and Afrikaans news producer Suna Venter were served with the papers on Thursday stating that they had been suspended indefinitely.
No reason was apparently given for their suspension. It was understood that they disagreed with an instruction during a diary conference not to cover the Right2Know campaign’s protest against censorship at the SABC.
The R2K protested outside the SABC’s offices.
The criticism against Motsoeneng reached a peak this week, when the SABC failed to show footage of the unrest in Tshwane.