Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

WILL they ever learn? Judging from the decision by management of the SABC to bar three senior political journalists from participating in a Metro FM discussion on media coverage of the African National Congress’s (ANC’s) Mangaung elective conference — and yesterday’s ham-handed attempt to justify it — the answer must be no.

It is not as if the issue of illegal censorship and political interference in the editorial decision-making of the public broadcaster has not reared its ugly head before.

Hardly a month ago, the SABC and the Freedom of Expression Institute settled a dispute over the SABC’s failure to comply with its licence conditions in the build-up to the ANC’s 2007 Polokwane conference, when then news and current affairs head Snuki Zikalala blacklisted commentators he believed to be anti-ANC.

The settlement avoided the need for a ruling by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa), which some commentators regretted at the time, as a clear warning shot across the SABC’s bows from a constitutionally mandated body might have more of an effect than a private settlement with a civil society organisation.

Unfortunately, the concern that motivated this position appears to have been real: it has not taken long for the SABC to transgress again. This time, the guilty party is acting chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng who has received support from the ANC to be appointed to the position permanently.

It was Mr Motsoeneng who, minutes before the show was to go on air, instructed Metro FM presenter Sakina Kamwendo to exclude Sunday Times political editor S’thembiso Msomi, Financial Times Southern Africa bureau chief Andrew England and Business Day political editor Sam Mkokeli from the programme. Yesterday, he justified this by saying it would be unfair to discuss anything to do with Mangaung without an ANC representative being invited to present its side.

The mind boggles; is this policy going to be applied across the board? It is clear that even if there was no phone call, His Master’s Voice still echoes through the corridors of Auckland Park. This time Icasa needs to act decisively or give up all hope of retaining any credibility as a regulator.