• The South African state broadcaster has been banned from reporting negative news about the embattled President Jacob Zuma, as he “deserves a certain degree of respect as president of the country.”

    According to a local newspaper City Press, the order was allegedly given by chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). The controversial COO who also happens to be President Zuma’s confidante also said that the company’s camera people have to be retrained because they “make [Zuma] look shorter” than he really is.

    In the recent months, SABC news has been criticized for broadcasting ‘propaganda’ and for censoring its news by avoiding to report and show coverage of recent violent protests in the country.

    “It is regrettable that these actions are disrupting many lives and, as a responsible public institution, we will not assist these individuals to push their agenda that seeks media attention,” Mr Motsoeneng stated adding that “as a public service broadcaster we have the mandate to educate the citizens, and we, therefore, have taken this bold decision to show that violent protests are not necessary.”

    Reporting on positive stories?

    This is not the first time, Mr Motsoeneng has pushed for telling South Africa’s positive story instead of concentrating on negative ones.

    “The media normally focus on the negative publicity. I believe, from the SABC’s side, 70% should be positive [news] stories and then you can have 30% negative stories. The reason I am championing this is because if you only talk about the negative, people can’t even try to think on their feet. Because what occupies their mind is all this negative stuff.”

    While telling Africa’s positive stories is the agenda that is being pushed by many, what the COO is doing is not just pushing for a positive story but also limiting, media’s watchdog role it plays in the society.

    But Motsoeneng has come out to deny the allegations, according to City Press. “It is not true. People are just obsessed with Hlaudi,” Kaizer Kganyago, the SABC spokesperson later said. 

    Commenting on the issue of retraining camera operators, the spokesperson added that the request was made so that the picture quality was “a true reflection” of the person being photographed.

    Following the new changes at the news broadcaster, Jimi Matthews, the acting head of news, quit on Monday (June 27) citing ‘dictatorship’ as the basis for his resignation. What is happening at the SABC is wrong, and I can no longer be a part of it,” he wrote in his resignation letter.

    Matthews also apologized for “remaining silent when my voice needed to be heard.”

    A source within the SABC who wanted to remain anonymous told Rapport, City Press’ sister newspaper that:

    “Then came the requirement that at least 80% of news coverage had to be positive. That raised a few eyebrows, but we knew there were big problems when Hlaudi suddenly banned coverage of violent protests. That’s when the stories we covered started changing completely. Municipal and political stories slowly but surely began disappearing, and the focus shifted to covering ceremonies rather than issues.”

    “I saw with my own eyes how visuals of the stadium emptying out during the president’s Youth Day address were cut out,” another journalist told Rapport. “And all of it in the name of nation-building.”

    On its part, the South African National Editors Forum has called on SABC leadership to reverse its policies to censor the news.

    “The apartheid regime used the SABC as a propaganda tool but was not able to dupe the South African public,” spokesman Mpumelelo Mkhabela said. “We call on the leadership of the SABC to urgently reverse its decision to censor the news and allow its journalists to work in a free environment that does not compromise their ethics,” the Independent reported.

    Image credit: AP