On the 8 March 2017, the Council of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), acting on the recommendation of the Complaints and Compliance Committee (CCC), declared the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) Board’s 2016 amendment of its editorial policies to be invalid.
The SOS Support Broadcasting Coalition and Media Monitoring Africa, represented by the Legal Resources Centre, challenged the amendments to the SABC’s editorial policies on the basis that the SABC had failed to publish the proposed amendments to its editorial policies for public comment before accepting the amendments on 25 January 2016. This failure, it was argued, was a breach of the SABC’s duty to engage in public participation in terms of section 6(6) of the Broadcasting Act, 1999.
As noted in the ruling, the amendment to the editorial policies contained a number of significant revisions that were of concern to the complainants, including that –
- It altered the substance of the upward referral policy, by which the CEO would be replaced by the COO to resolve disputes;
- It removed the prohibition on hidden cameras and sensational reporting in the coverage of crime;
- It removed the obligations to exercise care when interviewing people without broadcast experience;
- It removed the obligation on staff to consult the office of the Chief Legal Advisor;
- It removed guidance on privacy issues.
The CCC ruled that, in failing to publish the draft amended policies and invite comment on them, public participation had not taken place in terms of section 6(6) of the Broadcasting Act. The CCC described this omission as “substantial”, finding that the duty to engage in public consultation is “an essential condition” of the Broadcasting Act.
Accordingly, the CCC held that the 2016 amendment by the SABC Board to its editorial policies were invalid in terms of the Broadcasting Act, and that the 2004 editorial policies therefore remain valid.