South Africa: Broadcaster's Cape Bureau 'Still Mismanaged, With Bias'

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THE SABC's powerful Cape Town bureau continues to be dogged by allegations of mismanagement and politically skewed reporting in favour of an African National Congress (ANC) faction in Western Cape - even though an independent board of enquiry, under former CEO Zwelakhe Sisulu and lawyer Gilbert Marcus, last year apparently recommended that the public broadcaster address the problems.

Last week Business Day obtained information from former journalists, who did not wish their names to be published, that provides context to these concerns and which details some of the reasons that have allegedly led to the SABC's Cape Town newsroom losing at least one senior news staffer every three months since 1999.

One former SABC journalist claims the situation is not much different in other SABC newsrooms. Attempts since Thursday to get SABC comment on these specific allegations were unsuccessful . A request for an interview with SABC board chairman Khanyisiwe Mkonza earlier last week, was denied.

A request for comment from the SABC's Cape Town editor, Jeffrey Twala, was referred to the SABC public spokesman Kaizer Kganyago, who would only say that many recent allegations about the SABC in the media were inaccurate. Some of the alleged mismanagement in the Cape Town bureau includes details of "relentless verbal abuse of staffers" and the "way in which Twala manipulates the news for political gain".

In the first half of last year, "three more reporters resigned, in large measure due to Twala not allowing them to do stories detrimental to the ANC, in forcing them to constantly do stories that attack the DA (Democratic Alliance) and also stories that cast Western Cape premier Ebrahim Rasool in a bad light so as to benefit (his pro-Africanist party opponent) Mcebisi Skwatsha".

The information provides examples of alleged news bias, such as " when the wife of Sheval Arendse, then with the DA, was convicted of fraud, the story was covered on a daily basis at the instructions of Twala. However, when the wife of Skwatsha of the ANC was convicted of theft, Twala did not allow a single story to be broadcast."

Complaints about the political bias of the SABC's news coverage has stretched from Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), to opposition parties, to civic organisations such as the Freedom of Expression Institute, to even the ANC itself.

For example, ANC MP Lumka Yengeni indicated the party's unhappiness about the SABC on February 13 when she said in Parliament that "we do not want the SABC to be the lapdog of government or of the ANC or of any other party for that matter ... we want them to be a proper public broadcaster that informs and entertains all our people."

The Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers' Union said in its submission to the Sisulu-Marcus commission : "The overarching issues which have led to the unprecedented loss of staff since Mr Twala took control of the Sea Point news room some eight years are a) human rights abuses and b) the daily contravention of partisan party political reasons of the SABC's de facto code of journalistic conduct ..."

Business Day (Johannesburg) 29 April 2008