Letter of complaint to Mr P Mashile (ICASA Chairperson) regarding Political bias of the Public Broadcaster from the UDM President (4 November 2008)

Dear Sir

The above-mentioned matter refers.

In launching this complaint I am confident that other political parties (other than the ANC) will concur that the SABC is a serial offender when it comes to bias in favour of the ANC. This past Sunday we were busy discussing on SABC2 the implications and outcomes of the national convention.
Participants in the discussion included the DA, IFP, UDM, ACDP, ID and a representative of the group who called the convention (led by Messrs Lekota and Shilowa).

We were busy with a panel discussion and I had just made the point that the public broadcaster won't give any political party other than the ruling party as much as 4 minutes in order to launch our election manifestoes but the ruling party will be given hours of live coverage to launch their manifesto, election campaign and closing rallies. We were unceremoniously interrupted in the middle of our discussion and then the SABC crossed live to the ANC rally addressed by Mr Jacob Zuma, where they gave him uninterrupted coverage to pillory the national convention, promote racism (with references to 'white' parties and 'black' parties), promote ethnicity and tribalism and to spout hate-speech (by referring among other things to political opponents as 'snakes').

The Public Broadcaster has a duty to foster multi-party democracy and to equitably air all the sides of an issue. Especially during times of political change and in the run-up to an election it is vital that all political views are given equitable representation to allow the public to make informed political decisions. What is disturbing is that instead of getting opposition political parties to discuss their manifestoes or positions, excessive time is given to some 'analyst' or another to speak about opposition political party positions. Such analysts inevitably characterise opposition political parties' policies in ways that we would never have. Thus even when the Public Broadcaster does ostensibly attend to opposition political parties, more time is given to an 'analyst' than we are ever given to actually promote our own policies. More often than not it is clear that these so-called 'analysts' are not familiar with the political parties' and policies that they comment on.

The ruling party regularly gets unfiltered live coverage of its rallies, election events, manifesto launch, closing rallies and in the past month (aside from this past Sunday's rally) was twice given extensive live coverage to address internal party squabbles. Such coverage has never been accorded to any other political party. It is unjust.

In the interim whilst you consider my complaint, I appeal to you to call a summit of all political parties, the IEC and the SABC. The IEC committed earlier this year to calling such a summit but they have failed to do so. Must we go to the Constitutional Court to address this matter? We have complained numerous times to the SABC over the years. When we have written to the SABC to request similar coverage for our campaign events we have been ignored, lied to, or even asked dismissive and sarcastic questions about whether we thought our campaign events are newsworthy.

On Sunday the Public Broadcaster again displayed their bias by interrupting a discussion on a matter of national importance and interest involving a diverse range of political parties in order to cross for live coverage to an exclusive ANC event that was quite clearly timed and planned to undermine the publicity its political opponents were receiving.

Once more I urge you to urgently convene the summit I have referred to above; we need answers and commitments, not next year, but soonest. I would also like to point out that the election campaign is already underway, as is amply demonstrated by the content of the ruling party's rallies and events in the past fortnight; so we cannot be fobbed off with arguments that the SABC will apply rules for equitable and fair coverage once an election date has been announced or some other arbitrary future point in time. The election campaign is underway at this moment and the ruling party is already benefiting from the SABC's biased behaviour in favour of it.


Bantu Holomisa, MP
UDM President

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