SABC feeling pressure

The SA Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) said yesterday it would meet political parties this month to discuss the 2009 elections because it was concerned with pressure being put on it.

The SA Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) said yesterday it would meet political parties this month to discuss the 2009 elections because it was concerned with pressure being put on it.

SABC board news committee chairman Bheki Khumalo said board members, senior editors, provincial editors and executive producers met after pressure from political parties and allegations of bias.

The board meeting decided to meet political parties before the end of the month to discuss preparations for the 2009 elections and other concerns parties have.

The meeting also heard about threats levelled at certain journalists and of news staff being subjected to verbal abuse by politicians.

"The SABC board is extremely concerned about this external pressure and believes that it has the potential to seriously undermine the editorial independence of the news division," Khumalo said.

"Executive producers, in particular, complained about the pressure that they are being subjected to by political parties and individuals.

"They were of the view that this will escalate as we get closer to the elections."

Khumalo defended the integrity of SABC staff and in its editorial process. But the SABC, he said, acknowledged there could be operational challenges in the newsroom and the broadcaster would consider legitimate complaints from political parties and the public.

The meeting also decided that the broadcaster would contract other independent companies to conduct independent monitoring of its election coverage.

A complaints office was being established that would be able to deal with all complaints within three days. The details of the office would be released later.

The SABC would launch an internal campaign to ensure that its employees knew and understood its internal charter, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa regulations and the editorial code in terms of election coverage and news broadcasts.

Khumalo said the board recognised that individuals had a right to political views but there was no place for party activism or factionalism in the newsroom.

"Action will be taken against anyone employed [by the SABC] who promotes political activism and factionalism within the newsroom," Khumalo said.

The board would protect its editorial team from "political parties or individuals who issue threats or abuse - verbally or otherwise - to any of our editorial staff," he said. - Sapa

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