The SABC must apologise to the Mail & Guardian newspaper and leading investigative journalist Sam Sole after the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) this week rejected its appeal regarding a televised news item concerning businessman Robert Gumede.
In terms of the BCCSA ruling, the apology must be broadcast within seven days. The commission also ruled that a summary of its judgment must be aired on prime-time television, where the offending item originally appeared.
Having a second appeal rejected, the SABC has now exhausted the two-stage BCCSA appeals procedure.
The original SABC story alleged that Sole, of the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, took a bribe and that his subsequent articles on Gumede were racially biased. In its submission to the BCCSA, the M&G argued that the report flouted basic ethical standards by making unsubstantiated accusations and failing to give the paper adequate chance to respond.
Head of SABC news, Phil Molefe, denied any knowledge of the judgment on Wednesday and could not say when an apology would be aired. The M&G also made several attempts to contact SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago, including leaving messages on his cellphone and sending him an email. He did not respond.
BCCSA registrar Shouneez Martin told the M&G on Wednesday that if the SABC did not comply it would have to “inform the BCCSA in writing as to why it is unable to do so”.
Gumede, who has close ties to the ANC, had been the subject of an exposé by Sole before the offending news bulletin, at 7pm on November 3.
In the news item, he accused Sole of corruption in receiving R900 from John Sterenborg, Gumede’s former business partner, claiming that it influenced coverage about him (Gumede) in the M&G.
The partnership between Gumede and Sterenborg soured in 2001-2002.
Sole said that the R900 was a reimbursement for a flight to Johannesburg to interview Sterenborg. At the time he had been working for Noseweek and his editor, Martin Welz, had arranged for Sole to be reimbursed. No story emanated from the interview.
In response to Sole’s complaint, the BCCSA found in March this year that SABC3 did not give sufficient time to the editor of the M&G, Nic Dawes, to respond to the accusations of bribery. Dawes was quoted inaccurately and most of the two-and-a-half-minute broadcast was devoted to the allegations by Gumede, who held up a cheque for R900 as “evidence” of impropriety.
After the SABC’s appeal in April, BCCSA chairperson Kobus van Rooyen found that Gumede was granted airtime and allowed to make allegations against Sole without substantiating evidence. Van Rooyen concluded that it was unlikely that “the appeal tribunal would come to a [different] conclusion”.
Dawes said he was delighted and looked forward to hearing a summary of the latest ruling on prime-time television news, as ordered.
“More importantly, I look forward to the renewal of a culture of ethical journalism at the SABC,” he said.
Sole said: “It’s a pity that the SABC wasted time and money trying to defend the indefensible rather than using the original ruling as a basis for introspection. I hope this gives journalists at the SABC some ammunition to resist pressure to tailor stories to a particular bias.”
The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, supported by M&G Media and the Open Society Foundation for South Africa, produced this story. All views are the centre’s. www.amabhungane.co.za.