South Africa’s state-owned broadcaster will stop showing violent anti-government protests flaring up around the country, triggering accusations it was protecting the ruling party ahead of local elections in August.
The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) said in a statement late on Thursday that it will not show footage of people burning public property in its news bulletins, saying this would encourage others to carry out similar violence.
“How do you destroy public property? I think all media should condemn this,” Hlaudi Motsoeneng, SABC’s chief operations officer, told radio station 702 on Friday.
SABC’s action came after two people were killed in clashes north of the capital Pretoria on Monday over the demolition of a shanty-town. At least 19 schools were torched by angry residents in the northern Limpopo province earlier this month.
Outbursts of collective violence over the lack of social services such as water or roads have become a common feature in South Africa where the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party is expected to face a stern test at the polls.
“The national broadcaster has taken the best decision, not influenced by anybody outside but by its own editorial policy,” said ANC’s spokesman Zizi Kodwa.
But Phumzile Van Damme, spokeswoman for the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, said SABC’s decision “most certainly has everything to do with the election”.
She said the DA was considering taking legal action against the SABC, but it was not clear on what grounds it would do so.
Funded by tax-payers, the SABC has the widest reach among South Africa’s broadcasters.
“What the SABC may confront is a further loss of credibility and audiences will just go somewhere else,” said Franz Kruger, head of the journalism department at the University of the Witwatersrand.