Protesters called on South Africa’s state broadcaster on Friday to reverse a decision not to show footage of violent anti-government protests, but the station denied their claims it was censoring the news in the run-up to local elections.
More than a hundred people stood outside the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s (SABC) offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town, some wearing black tape across their mouths in the protest dubbed #BlackFriday on Twitter.
Others waved placards reading “censorship is as violent as protests” and “show real news”.
The SABC announced in May that it would not show footage of people burning public property in its news bulletins, saying this would encourage others to carry out similar violence.
That prompted accusations that it is seeking to protect the ruling African National Congress (ANC) ahead of what is likely to be a stern electoral test on Aug. 3. Outbursts of collective violence over the lack of social services such as water or roads have become a common feature in South Africa.
Friday’s protest was prompted by the suspension this week of three journalists for questioning the new editorial policy.
Three others are due to face an internal disciplinary panel, while acting CEO Jimi Mathews, himself a journalist, resigned on Monday citing a “corrosive atmosphere”. “What is happening at the SABC is wrong and I can no longer be a part of it,” said Mathews in a letter posted on his Twitter feed.
Funded by taxpayers, the SABC has the widest reach of any South African broadcaster.
“The public broadcaster is critical to democracy … there is a direct link between the quality of our SABC and the quality of our democracy,” political analyst Eusebius McKaiser told reporters at the Johannesburg protest on Thursday.
SABC Kaizer Kganyago said the station was not engaged in censorship.
“We’re basically just saying we are not going to show footage of people who are destroying property, but we are still going to explain everything and tell people what has happened and if that is censorship then I don’t understand,” he said.
“That is a ridiculous statement because the ANC doesn’t run the SABC,” he said when asked if the editorial policy changes were meant to favour the ruling party.