Zuma’s communications ministry sparks concerns for SABC

Industry experts and opposition figures in South Africa have criticised the government’s decision to group the public broadcaster SABC and state communication bodies into one ministry.

Critics argued that the creation of the new Communications Ministry brought the independence of the South African Broadcasting Corporation into question, it was reported on the local Business Day Live website.

The recently re-elected President, Jacob Zuma, unveiled his new cabinet last week, and said that a new communications ministry would be “formed out of components” including the SABC, Brand SA, the Media Development and Diversity Agency, and the Government Communications and Information System. The ministry would be responsible for communication strategy and the “branding of the country abroad”.

The new ministry would also include the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa. The reconfiguration has also resulted in the creation of a separate Minstry of Telecommunications and Postal Services, which means that oversight of mobile and broadcasting infrastructure will fall under different departments.

Sekoetlane Jacob Phamodi, Co-ordinator of the South African lobby group SOS: Support Public Broadcasting, said in BD Live, that the organisation was “astonished” at the decision that was a blow to the sector especially at a time when “we need to be moving to a converged ICT environment.”

Right2Know, a media freedom campaign group in South Africa, aired its concerns around the new ministry’s task to draft policies on broadcast and transform print media, in a statement it said: “These are both long overdue interventions that should be aimed at diversifying the media landscape and ensuring the sustainability of public and community media.

“These sensitive regulatory processes must be undertaken to advance freedom of expression and press freedom in particular,” it continued. “[But] they are now in the hands of a minister with a mandate to ensure that government’s ‘good story’ gets told.”

Murray Hunter, the group’s national spokesman said in BD Live: “This ministry will pull in two different directions. I sense the design of this ministry will make its functions that much harder.”

A spokesman from the ANC, the party in government, Keith Khoza, said the mass media was merely a platform in the ongoing “battle of ideas” in South Africa. “The battle of ideas is about public debate, in fact.

“This is debate about public policy and other matters, he told BD Live. “The ANC, like any political organisation in the public domain, seeks to influence public opinion, so we are unapologetic about that because it is part of the battle of ideas.”

He added that the constitution protected the independence of the SABC.

The Shadow Minister of Communications, from the Democratic Alliance Party, Marian Shinn, said in BD Live last week that the reconfiguration showed that the ANC “conflates communication content and communications infrastructure.”

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