IT IS too easy to laugh. When Sakina Kamwendo invited three print journalists to discuss the media coverage of the African National Congress’s (ANC’s) Mangaung conference on her Metro FM show, the show was pulled at the last minute by the SABC’s acting chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng.
The reason he gave afterwards was simple: the show was not balanced because the subject was the ANC’s conference and there was no ANC representative on the panel.
Now, as we all know, the SABC treasures "balance"; it honours "balance"; it reveres ‘balance". Ja, right.
The irony, of course, is that far from making the discussion "balanced" by including an ANC representative, it would have made the discussion unbalanced as it would then plainly have excluded the voice of any political grouping other than the ANC. Somehow, this did not seem to occur to Motsoeneng.
The discussion included three of the most fair-minded journalists in the political game: S’thembiso Msomi from the Sunday Times, Sam Mkokeli from Business Day and Andrew England from the Financial Times.
Msomi actually tweeted afterwards that, ironically, one of the points he intended making was that the coverage of the conference by the SABC had been pretty fair to his mind.
In any event, Motsoeneng’s justification for pulling the interview was roundly ridiculed, as it should have been.
Someone joked that Top Gear has been pulled off the SABC too because nobody had consulted the ANC on its views on driving.
Personally, I feel for the presenters of the religious programming. You can imagine the conversation. "Hi, Mr Lucifer, we would like to invite you to join us on the Kingdom Come programme, because our policy requires a balanced approach at all times, and we would like to offer you the opportunity to, you know, present your side of the story."
It’s all slightly comical and funny … except that it isn’t. For a start, the recent history of the SABC is just ridiculous, starting with Motsoeneng himself.
Motsoeneng is still the SABC’s "acting" chief operating officer because there remains some controversy over his qualifications.
It’s not just that he doesn’t have matric, he has no real broadcasting experience. He was elevated from being an occasional contributor to the boss in one great political swoosh.
My guess is that there is only one reason someone who not only is without obvious qualifications for the job, but really has no qualifications at all, rises that fast: his career appears to be firmly aligned not only to the political party in power, but to the leading faction of the political party in power.
Motsoeneng’s history over the past two months raises legitimate questions about what many would regard as grovelling fealty.
The insistence that nobody in the SABC use the term "Nkandlagate" on air to describe President Jacob Zuma’s plunder of state funds, or even use the term "compound" to describe the, er, croft involved, demonstrates on which side Motsoeneng sees his bread as being buttered.
This was quickly followed by the banning of the Fish & Chip Company’s TV advert that featured the legendary presidential shower head.
Of course, we have been here before.
In 2007, the Freedom of Expression Institute brought a complaint against the SABC before the Independent Communications Authority of SA for blacklisting political commentators.
Just two weeks ago, the institute withdrew its charge after the SABC admitted that it was wrong in that case and committed itself to upholding the law in the future.
A long time ago, Nadine Gordimer told a writers’ conference that censorship is never over for those who have experienced it.
"It is a brand on the imagination that affects the individual who has suffered it, forever."
A brand, it turns out, not only on the victim but also on the victor.
• Cohen is contributing editor.