THE Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) has appealed to the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) to hear the complaint over the SABC's alleged 2006 blacklisting of analysts critical of former president Thabo Mbeki before the end of the year or face further legal action.

The FXI believes a probe by Icasa will be invaluable in informing the broadcast policy review, recently announced by Communications Minister Roy Padayachie. The decision to hold a review followed the withdrawal of the flawed Public Service Broadcasting Bill and appeals by organisations for informed policy making.

It was the FXI who took the matter to the South Gauteng High Court where, in January, Judge Neels Claassen, found the SABC guilty of manipulating the news in 2005 and 2006. Judge Claassen also found that former head of news Snuki Zikalala had "dishonestly tried to cover up this manipulation".

The FXI had sought a review from the high court after Icasa ruled it did not have jurisdiction over how SABC programmes are put together, only over the broadcasting of programming. The court ordered Icasa to hear the matter.

The judgment came at a time when the public were questioning political interference at the SABC, with the hand of President Jacob Zuma clear in the appointment of Phil Molefe as Mr Zikalala's replacement. Affidavits by former head of radio news Pippa Green and John Perlman, a former presenter on SAfm, documented interference by Mr Zikalala in day-to-day operations.

FXI director Elston Seppie said the institute was aware that the absence of a chairman of Icasa's complaints and compliance committee had delayed the hearing of cases over the past few months, but hoped that now that Wandile Tutani had been appointed as chairman, the backlog of cases would be urgently addressed.

"Given the current turmoil at the SABC, including calls by unions to boycott the SABC, and governance and management issues which are coming to light, we feel a hearing of this matter is important in assisting with developing policy positions on key editorial and management issues. Hearing this matter will also assist us in making clear determinations on editorial independence," he said.

Icasa spokesman Paseka Maleka said the regulator would hear the matter before the end of the year.

benjaminc@bdfm.co.za