THE row over the failure by the SABC to show the Zapiro political cartoon documentary took a new turn yesterday when the public broadcaster laid charges of theft against the Mail & Guardian newspaper.
The documentary, which was to be shown on SABC's Special Assignment on Tuesday, was shown on the Mail & Guardian's online version yesterday.
The Mail & Guardian had announced on their website that they would show the documentary. "The public broadcaster won't put this on air. We will. Watch the uncut version of the Special Assignment documentary on political satire."
The SABC contends that Mail & Guardian is "unlawfully in possession of their property".
The newspaper - it had 40 000 hits yesterday - was overwhelmed by visitors to the site that they had to host the cartoon on a secondary site zoopy.com.
The SABC decided to report the matter to the police yesterday and allow the law to take its course.
"We view this matter in a serious light as this is SABC property, which was unlawfully obtained by Mail & Guardian online," the SABC said yesterday.
Mail & Guardian editor-in-chief Nic Dawes, however, defended the newspaper's decision to publish the show.
"We are quite confident that we have done the right thing by showing the show. The fact that the SABC pulled off the show twice, we think this is the right time for the public to make up their own minds about it.
"For the SABC to call us unprofessional, coming from them, we take it as a compliment. What this whole thing has demonstrated is the fact that for the SABC to try and exercise censorship during this age of the Internet will prove extremely difficult," said Dawes.
The Freedom of Expression Institute said it was sad for the SABC to be seen to be fighting fellow media houses instead of showing the programme.
"It is a negative thing and they are not going to win the public by doing this. Instead they should be showing the programme instead of fighting the Mail &Guardian because this is a popular programme that the public loves," Pat Skinner, deputy director of FXI, told Sowetan yesterday
The "offending" cartoon episode of Special Assignment was supposed to be shown on Tuesday and was withdrawn at the 11th hour for the second time within a few weeks. Last year the SABC was also caught in a similar situation when it withdrew a documentary about Thabo Mbeki twice, raising more or less similar arguments. But producers Redi Direko and Ben Cashdan showed it to the public at community halls before it was flighted on SABC.