The SABC News department has had more shame heaped upon it by the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) in a judgement that found it had been unfair to and broadcast ‘untruths’ about investigative journalist Sam Sole.
The allegations against Sole, who currently works for the Mail & Guardian newspaper and on which the SABC based its story, was made by controversial businessman Robert Gumede. He alleged that Sole had been bribed with a R900 air ticket by a business rival to investigate Gumede while Sole worked for investigative newsmagazine Noseweek. Gumede also alleged racial bias in the M&G’s reporting as related to Gumede himself.
In an earlier judgement on the same story, the BCCSA also found against the SABC in a complaint brought by John Sterenborg, a former business partner of Gumede, and the man alleged to have bribed Sole. In one of its most scathing judgement to date, the BCCSA found that the SABC was “unprofessional and actually reckless”, as well as “duplicitous” and deceptive, in its news broadcast.
In the complaint brought by the M&G, the judgement seems equally condemning. The BCCSA ordered SABC3 to broadcast an apology on its prime time (7pm) news slot, within the first 12 minutes of the broadcast, on 30 March 2011.
The statement SABC3 viewers will be treated to, and some unfortunate SABC3 news anchor will be subjected to, include the following:
“SABC3 news did not deal fairly”
“Firstly: SABC3 news did not deal fairly with the Mail & Guardian newspaper or Mr Sole. The SABC did not adequately address the matter of the alleged bribe. The fact is that Mr Sole did not receive a bribe, and despite the reply broadcast on behalf of the Mail & Guardian and Mr Sole, an incorrect inference could still have been drawn. Mr Sole had merely been reimbursed for an air ticket that he had purchased in order to interview a potential news source.
“Secondly: The SABC3 news item did not counter false insinuations regarding the further payment of bribes to Mr Sole. Mr Sole denied receiving any bribes at all, and the SABC should have included his denial in the Mail & Guardian’s reported reply.
“Thirdly: In this reported reply, the Mail & Guardian was not granted the opportunity of denying accusations of racial bias against Mr Gumede.
“In conclusion, these omissions constitute unfairness towards Mr Sole and the Mail & Guardian, and the broadcasting of an untruth. The BCCSA has therefore issued a reprimand against SABC3.”
“Serious intervention into the independence of SABC3”
The BCCSA decided not to levy an additional fine on the SABC. It reasoned that its order constituted a “serious intervention into the independence of SABC3 to decide itself what should form part of the newscast” and this was seen as sufficiently serious reflection of the judgement. The BCCSA also did not order an apology from the SABC, saying its rules did not allow it to do so. It will be up to the SABC to decide if it wishes to apologise to viewers and others wronged in its broadcast or not.
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