Quote of the week

Mr Zuma is no ordinary litigant. He is the former President of the Republic, who remains a public figure and continues to wield significant political influence, while acting as an example to his supporters… He has a great deal of power to incite others to similarly defy court orders because his actions and any consequences, or lack thereof, are being closely observed by the public. If his conduct is met with impunity, he will do significant damage to the rule of law. As this Court noted in Mamabolo, “[n]o one familiar with our history can be unaware of the very special need to preserve the integrity of the rule of law”. Mr Zuma is subject to the laws of the Republic. No person enjoys exclusion or exemption from the sovereignty of our laws… It would be antithetical to the value of accountability if those who once held high office are not bound by the law.

Khampepe j
Secretary of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector including Organs of State v Zuma and Others (CCT 52/21) [2021] ZACC 18
15 October 2008

The SABC and the Zuma interview

The SABC has a legal mandate to act as a public broadcaster to inform and educate South Africans. In terms of the Broadcasting Act, the public broadcaster “must provide significant news and public affairs programming which meets the highest standards of journalism, as well as fair and unbiased coverage, impartiality, balance and independence from government, commercial and other interests”.

This Act must be interpreted in the light of the values and rights enshrined in the Constitution – including the right to freedom of expression and the right to human dignity.

When political leaders are in the news, it would therefore be perfectly legitimate for the SABC to interview those leaders – even at length – to ask them the challenging questions that would allow voters to form opinions about those leaders and the events in the news. As long as this is done in a fair manner to cover all aspects of the news events and as long as individual South Africans are not denied access to all the relevant information they need to make informed decisions. The Constitution requires the public broadcaster to provide a wide array of ideas and views because where individuals are deprived of such views their human dignity is affected.

As I understand the Constitutional Courts interpretation of the right to human dignity, it would require the public broadcaster to provide individuals with sufficient, clear and comprehensive information to enable them to make decisions about their own lives, thus about who they are and how they want to live their lives. This would include information that will empower individuals to make informed decisions about how they are going to vote or which political party they wish to join (or leave). When individuals are deprived of information or provided with one-sided information, the dignity of those individuals are not respected or protected because those individuals are denied the opportunity to act according to their own conscience and beliefs. They are denied full agency.

I am therefore not sure whether the decision by the SABC to have a long interview with the President of the ANC in prime time tonight was either wise or legally and constitutionally justified. Mr Jacob Zuma is the leader of the largest political party in South Africa – albeit a party who seems to be splitting in two – so the SABC was clearly entitled to interview him at length and to grill him on the most recent developments in his party.

But that would only give listeners and viewers half the story. A broadcaster that respected the dignity of its listeners and viewers would also interview (at length) other role players in this drama to present their side of the story so that ordinary voters could then decide whether they wanted to stick with the ANC or whether they wanted to follow the Lekota faction. If the SABC only interviews Zuma and ignores Lekota, it is in effect disrespecting the human dignity of ordinary individuals, who are not treated as people with agency who have a right to make up their own minds about issues.

In such a scenario the SABC becomes a propaganda tool of the ANC, used to try and minimise the effects of the split by giving the leader of the ANC extended free coverage in an attempt to help stop the political bleeding of his party. It is difficult not to view the decision of the SABC to interview Zuma at length at this particular juncture as a move to act as the ANC’s propaganda arm. Failure to provide other important leaders in this drama (Lekota or Shilowa) equal or almost equal time would signal an utter disregard for the dignity of viewers and listeners and would not be commensurate with the legal mandate of the SABC.

Failure to treat the major role players in this developing political drama in an even-handed and fair way would suggest that the SABC is an ANC lackey and that it has about as much credibility in the news department as George Bush has in the weapons of mass destruction department.

Not that I am surprised. After all, Snuki (Phd Bulgaria) and his henchmen are in charge at Faulty Towers again.

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