A throwback to the Apartheid days, many opposition politicians believe the SABC to be the mouthpiece of the ANC government or “SANC”, just as it was that of the National Party. Despite a change in government, this public perception was reinforced when, in August 2005, the SABC came under heavy fire from non-affiliated media and the public for failing to broadcast a scene whereby Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka was booed offstage by members of the ANC Youth League, who were showing support for the newly-axed ex-Deputy President, Jacob Zuma.
Rival broadcaster eTV publicly accused SABC of ‘biased reporting’ by failing to show the video footage of the humiliated Deputy President, but Snuki Zikalala, Head of News and ex-ANC spokesperson retorted by stating that their cameraman was not present at the meeting, a claim later established to be false when eTV footage was released which showed an SABC cameraman filming the incident.
SABC’s government connections also came under scrutiny when, in April 2005, Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe was interviewed live by Zikalala, who is a former ANC political commissar. The interview held was deemed by the public eye to have side-stepped ‘critical issues’ and controversial questions regarding Mugabe’s radical land-reform policies and human rights violations.
In May 2006, the SABC was accused of self censorship, when it decided not to air a documentary on South African President Thabo Mbeki, and in early June requested that the producers (from Daylight Films) not speak about it. This has been widely criticised by independent media groups. In response, the International Freedom of Expression Exchange issued an alert concerning the SABC’s apparent trend toward self-censorship.
In June 2006 the International Federation of Journalists denounced the cancelling of the Thabo Mbeki documentary, citing “self censorship” and “politically influenced managers”.
Also in June 2006, SAfm host John Perlman disclosed on air that the SABC had created a blacklist of commentators. A commission of inquiry was created by SABC CEO Dali Mpofu into the allegations that individuals were blacklisted at the behest of Zikalala.
Critics, including the influential newspaper, Mail and Guardian (Vol 24, No 35) have accused the broadcaster of cultural myopia by failing to recognize the diverse cultural mix of South Africa and excessive favoring of certain ethnic groups in their choice of entertainment offered particularly by the TV services.