Old-style democracy was when every man went to the chief’s place and participated personally in the affairs of the village. Everyone contributed to the conversations, and the chief took the consensus as the voice of the people. But the village has widened so immeasurably that we now have new-style democracy.
Today, the way it works is that we periodically elect people whose ideas reflect ours to go and speak for us at various forums — at local government, for example. The decisions of those forums are meant to reflect the will of the people.
Between the elections, we continue to speak out – through word of mouth, cellphones, blogs, talk radio, letters and opinion pieces in newspapers. We toyi-toyi and we protest; we remain loud and noisy, because we cherish our right to be heard.
This right is entrenched in the constitution’s bill of rights, which guarantees that "everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of the press and other media, freedom to receive and impart information and ideas".
Of course, entrepreneurs will make money out of providing the platform for these conversations — including Internet and newspaper publishers, and private radio or television stations.
But for those who can’t afford the expensive platforms, we have the SA Broadcasting Corp (SABC) — a national asset that should both be our mirror as a nation, reflecting our various voices and images, as well as being a window to the wider world through its news services.
No other news organisation in this country has the reach of the SABC. It extends into every crevice of our land, broadcasting in all our official languages. It’s our SABC, and the people who serve there are our servants.
It would, therefore, be stupid of us to allow our asset to be used against us by these servants. It is the duty of every South African to stop and reflect on the goings-on at the SABC. We must draw a line in the sand.
Many of us remember the SABC in the 1980s. It was an institution which spewed apartheid propaganda, and refused to tell the red-hot story that the country was in flames. We refuse to go back there.
When I was recruited to the SABC in 1994 to be part of Zwelakhe Sisulu and Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri’s team that worked on transforming it from a state broadcaster to a public broadcaster serving all the people of SA, I was delighted to serve my country. I left three years later feeling that the corporation was on steady ground.
Sadly, the SABC has regressed. And because of this, seven former board members and executives, including me, have now written to President Jacob Zuma, communications minister Faith Muthambi, and SABC chairman Mbulaheni Maguvhe, expressing our views that:
- Censorship has no place at the SABC. It is in violation of the principle of freedom of information and freedom of speech. The censorship of certain news items in place at the SABC should be done away with.
- The state of fear under which SABC employees are working is not conducive to good journalism or programming. It has to cease.
- The individuals or management found responsible for the censorship and victimisation of employees should be disciplined and removed from the SABC.
- The SABC needs to revert to the codes, principles and practices that were adopted at the time of transformation.
- The board should immediately appoint a credible and independent task team to investigate the malaise at the SABC and allow employees to testify without fear of victimisation.
The signatories include former board members Brigalia Bam, Njabulo Ndebele, Allister Sparks, Govin Reddy, Mathatha Tsedu and Barney Mthombothi.
We, as South Africans, cannot sit idly by while our property is turned into the Hlaudi Motsoeneng fiefdom. No South African should.
• Thloloe is the executive director of the Press Council and former SABC news editor-in-chief