‘Public editor’ proposed to open up SABC

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By BEKEZELA PHAKATHI

Right2Know wants society to have a say in content

The Right2Know campaign has called for the appointment of a “public editor” at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) to enable the public to engage continuously and consistently in programming.

Broad public: SABC headquarters in Auckland Park, Johannesburg. The broadcaster called for public input to inform the revision of its editorial code and policies. Stakeholders including the Right2Know campaign and the DA made submissions before the August 31 deadline. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

The public broadcaster is revamping its outdated editorial policies and in July called for the public to comment. The deadline for written submissions was August 31, and all input from the public would be consolidated and would inform a revised editorial code and policies, the public broadcaster said.

In its written submission, Right2Know also proposed the establishment of national and provincial/regional stakeholder committees comprising key national and provincial players.

These committees would help ensure that the SABC performs its public broadcasting role with specific reference to programming, and review the broadcaster’s charter periodically, advising the board and the minister of communications on changes required over time, by providing an up-to-date public broadcasting mandate.

“The [revised] editorial policy should enable the practice of democratic journalism where journalists move away from being told what to do, and speaking only to the spokespeople, and develop capacities to be critical, independent thinkers who make the tough calls themselves,” Right2Know said.

It called for quality and diversity in programming, saying challenges included underrepresentation of marginalised people and issues affecting them.

The voices of women and children were still not heard and gender issues were neglected, the pressure group said.

“There seems to be an over-representation of English as well as white people across all SABC services, which is not representative of the demographics of the country. Moreover, the SABC reproduces unjust power relations both locally (in terms of language, race, gender and class) as well as globally with a dominance of American programming,” Right2Know said.

In its submission, the DA called for the appointment of an editor-in-chief.

“The DA proposes removing the CEO of the SABC from the position of editor-in-chief of the public broadcaster. Top management must not be involved in making editorial decisions, that should be left to the respective line managers, with the head of news as editor-in-chief of the SABC,” said DA MP and communications spokeswoman Phumzile van Damme.

News decisions should be made on the newsroom floor, and left entirely to news editors, without the involvement of top management, to insulate news decisions from political and commercial considerations, said Van Damme.

“In order to ensure that the values contained in the SABC’s editorial code are not merely lofty ideals, but rather central to how the SABC makes editorial decisions, the DA proposes the inclusion of a section in the editorial code which details consequences for staff and management who violate the editorial code,” she said.

The DA said the SABC had to, in consultation with the regulator, increase local content.

Van Damme said events of national importance requiring live coverage should be limited to, among other things, the state of the nation address, the budget speech, significant conferences of major political parties and state funerals, “instead of the SABC’s programming being interrupted for speeches by ANC leaders”.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za

-BussinessLIVE

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