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SABC sticks to its guns on Tshwane protest coverage

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The SABC says it is not doing viewers a disservice by electing not to broadcast images of destruction by protesters in Tshwane.

The public broadcaster has been flayed on social media over its coverage of the protests which saw at least 20 buses torched on Monday night and the violence flaring up again on Tuesday with police reinforcements called in to establish calm in Mamelodi‚ Atteridgeville‚ Garunkuwa and Hammanskraal.

No footage of violent scenes were shown on SABC News outlets‚ but it did report on the protests unfolding in the capital on Tuesday.

The ongoing protest is one of the largest yet since SABC Chief Operating Officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng said the public broadcaster would no longer air footage of violent protests in a drive to discourage the destruction of property – a move that has not fared well with civil organisations and the public.

SABC protest blackout prevented public from ‘seeing ugly face of the ANC’ in Tshwane: Cope

On Tuesday morning Twitter was flooded with posts criticising the public broadcaster’s coverage.

Journalist Ferial Haffajee said on Monday night that the broadcaster aired a rugby story on its 24-hour news channel as Tshwane burnt.

“Nothing on SABC 1‚ 2 and 3 which are the really important channels. Maybe it’s a resource issue. Or skills to do lives. #TshwaneProtests‚” she tweeted.

On Tuesday morning anthropologist and social activist Ulrich J van Vuuren quipped that the SABC had opted to air scenes of the capital’s famous jacaranda trees and not its burning streets.

#TshwaneUnrest according to Hlaudi: Social media slams SABC’s ‘coverage’

SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago said on Tuesday that he had not seen the criticism of the broadcaster’s coverage of the situation in Tshwane and said it was covering the protests.

“We are only not airing footage of people destroying property. We are taking a stand [against this]‚” he said.

When asked if the SABC’s decision not to cover this element of the protests was doing viewers a disservice Kganyago simply said‚ “No”.

A snapshot of SABC’s news streams revealed the following:

– At the time of publication the SABC Digital News YouTube channel had posted four videos on Tuesday relating to the Tshwane protests – none of which showed any scenes of violence or buses burning.

– In one report an SABC journalist made reference to “criminal elements” in an interview with a police official.

In another video‚ an SABC asked its viewers what the penalty should be for burning public infrastructure before interviewing a spokesperson from bus company Putco to ascertain the situation following the torching of buses in Mamelodi.

– Meanwhile‚ the Morning Live breakfast show aired on SABC2 had not tweeted anything on the Tshwane protests on Tuesday. It’s last post on Twitter was a report on a Free State chocolate business tapping into the Russian market on Monday.

– The SABC3’s Espresso Morning Show‚ which features mostly lifestyle and entertainment news‚ ran stories on the art of fencing‚ the psychological consequences of “FOMO” (fear of missing out) and sushi making‚ according to its Facebook page.

British broadcaster the BBC‚ meanwhile‚ on Tuesday covered the protests in Tshwane‚ showing an image of two plumes of smoke rising over the city and another of burnt wreckage on a road.

Democratic Alliance national spokesman Phumzile van Damme said it was appalling that the public broadcaster was not showing South Africans what is going on in South Africa.

“It is not enough to cover it without showing the footage… South Africans are not getting a full picture of what is going on…South Africans need to know exactly what is going on in their capital city‚” she said.

Media Monitoring Africa director William Bird said that the SABC’s coverage of the protest has shown the effect of such a “dangerous and profoundly offensive decision”.

Bird said that with its coverage on Monday night the SABC basically ignored the story and then covered it without showing any images relating to it.

He said the SABC should have offered more in-depth coverage.

“Why are our people so violent over a mayoral candidate … and who are these people and challenging the statement of the ANC that this is just criminal violence?

“That is what we should be expecting from our public broadcaster‚ the fact that we aren’t getting that shows exactly the kind of problem these kind of censorship decisions lead to‚” Bird said.

Bird said that there was a legitimate concern over showing violent images‚ but this is something dealt with on a case-by-case basis‚ rather than a blanket ban.

The SABC now reaches over 20-million South Africans through 19 radio stations and three television stations.

The SABC must on Wednesday provide the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) with reasons why it’s censoring its TV news in the run-up to the August municipal elections.

[source: TMG Digital and Business Team]
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