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Broadcasting corporation refuses to release full report on allegations of politically-motivated "blacklisting"

(FXI/IFEX) -The following is an FXI media statement:

RE: SABC 'blacklisting' report

The Freedom of Expression Institute is outraged that the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) has decided not to release the much-awaited report into allegations of a politically-motivated "blacklist" implemented by the Group Executive of News, Dr. Snuki Zikalala, on SABC services. Instead they have chosen to release the findings. This blacklist is alleged to have consisted of political commentators that had made statements critical of President Thabo Mbeki's presidency.

The report was put together by a semi-independent commission of enquiry, with the following terms of reference:

1. Dr. Zikalala had instructed his staff not to use four specifically named commentators because of their alleged political bias. Other names were subsequently added to the list of "excluded analysts".

2. This instruction was wrongful in that it was politically motivated since these commentators held a particular view on the African National Congress (ANC) succession debate to which the SABC was presumably opposed.

The FXI believes that there is only one way for the SABC to put public speculation about the report into allegations of blacklisting on the Corporation's services to rest, that is: to release the report in full. Half measures and summaries will not do. That is why the FXI yesterday filed an information request with the SABC, on the basis of the Promotion of Access to Information Act, asking for the report.

The SABC's Group Chief Executive Officer, Adv Dali Mpofu's response to questions this morning on the SABC's SAFM, and the statement issued by the SABC yesterday - which contains a "summary" of the report - are completely inadequate and raise more questions than they answer. Further, in failing to release the report, the SABC is falling down at the critical moment when it comes to its commitment to transparency. There is now a public dispute about the contents of the report, with competing versions coming into the public domain: a dispute that will be laid to rest only once the public has an opportunity to engage with the contents of the report directly, and not mediated by the SABC itself. We believe that there is a strong argument in terms of the Act for the report to be released.

Significantly, Adv Mpofu repeatedly contradicts himself and his media statements. Yesterday (on the Xolani Gwala show on SAFM and reported on the website), Adv Mpofu insisted that, according to the report, there was no "blanket ban" on commentators. This morning he said he would go to the grave maintaining this position. However, this contradicts the report summary issued by the SABC yesterday. The summary says the commission found that the media statement stating that there were no blanket bans on the use of individual commentators "avoided the issue" and was "misleading by omission".

Accordingly, it found that SAFM presenter's John Perlman's position - who had challenged on-air the SABC spokeperson, Kaizer Kganyago, on the Corporation's statements refuting the existence of the blacklist - was in conformity with the actual situation. Mr. Perlman's position, according to the SABC statement, was that '"blacklisting" was happening "in practice". Mr. Perlman specifically stated that this practice was happening "by instruction". We find it amazing that, after this, Adv Mpofu can still claim that the report found that there was no 'blanket ban" and no "blacklisting" at the SABC.

Further, according to the SABC summary, the commissioners found that instructions were given not to use some commentators (Karima Brown and Paula Slier), others could not be used in relation to the Zimbabwe crisis (Moeletsi Mbeki, Elinor Sisulu and Trevor Ncube); there were inferred instructions in relation to others (William Gumede and Sipho Seepe) and a still-to-be-clarified finding on Vukani Mde. Yet, Adv Mpofu continues to claim there is no evidence of any blanket ban or blacklisting of certain political analysts.

Another reason why the SABC must release the full report to the public is because the SABC's own summary of the report is confusing, garbled, and even downright contradictory.

The reasons for the non-release cited by the SABC are that much of the evidence given to the Commission was given by anonymous sources, and could therefore not be tested and "may well be contestable". Also, that the constitutional rights of witnesses and those against whom allegations are being made, are at stake. The un-testable nature of some of the evidence was perhaps inevitable with an enquiry of this nature, but the preponderance of confidential sources should not stop the release of the report. The public will read and understand untested (and un-testable) allegations for what they are. Also, if this weakness applies to the report, then it applies equally to the summary, so these are not sufficient grounds to withhold the release of the report.

The public will never know what the report really says as long as we receive only an SABC interpretation of it, which confuses as much as it informs. For example, what is one to make of the SABC summary that, in relation to Vukani Mde, there was "no evidence to suggest that any instruction was ever given to use him as an analyst or commentator"? It is difficult to know whether this is a mistake, as the purpose of the enquiry was not to prove whether there were instructions to use particular commentators, but rather not to use commentators. In relation to Aubrey Matshiqi, it states that there was no evidence of a blanket ban, but then refers to his "exclusion".

It is highly inappropriate for a public institution, committed to the free flow of information, to disable the free flow of information about its own activities. The FXI calls on the SABC to have the courage of its convictions and release the report, and to deal with the consequences as they arise.

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