Memorandum: SABC must stop pandering to elite and serve the public good

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This memo was delivered to the SABC in the Free State on 11 November 2021:

Memorandum: SABC must stop pandering to elite and serve the public good

We are the Cry of The Xcluded – the majority of people in South Africa excluded from the fruits of our economy, excluded from receiving decent services, and excluded from the media. 

Arundhati Roy has said, “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” 

We are not voiceless. We are the Xcluded. Our lives and suffering are made invisible by those who want to pretend all is well in Mzanzi. They want to pretend we do not go to sleep hungry. They want to pretend we are happy that the health system shows us an early death and the education system that delivers our children no future.

The recent local government elections have confirmed – again – that the vast majority of voters do not support any of the political parties. The ANC rules with the support of less than 15% of eligible voters.

The ANC lacks the legitimacy to govern. The ‘solutions’ they offer, neo-liberal economic policies and conservative social policies – can only deepen our poverty and inequality. The Xcluded majority know this.

We are not voiceless. South Africa’s democracy is failing because our public debate is captured by elite interests. We will not find democratic solutions to the challenges we face without deeper engagement with the Xcluded majority who live outside the electoral system.

The South African media is dominated by Naspers/Media24 and a few other corporations that put their profits – and the needs of big business advertisers – ahead of the public good. Journalism is dominated by government and big business spin doctors who push their own agendas. Media sources are predominantly urban middle class professionals who speak from the leafy suburbs with a limited understanding of the country.

It is unacceptable that we only see journalists in our communities and workplaces when there is a horrific act of violence or a Minister comes to open a project. We are tired of being portrayed as violent savages or the passive beneficiaries of gifts. We demand our dignity. We are tired of seeing the world through the eyes of President Ramaphosa and other CEOs. 

We are not voiceless. The media is failing our democracy. We demand our voice be heard.

Wealthy English speaking urban people are served a diverse range of TV, radio, newspapers and magazines that cater to every ‘niche market’. We – the majority – are dependent primarily on the services of the SABC. 

The law says that the SABC must not be a propaganda machine for the government or ruling party. The law says the SABC should be a public broadcaster that informs citizens and enables our freedom of expression by facilitating meaningful dialogue.

But since the beginning of ANC rule we have seen the SABC captured by competing factions of the ruling party. Government has systematically under-funded public and community media while enabling the rise and dominance of Naspers/Media24. The SABC has pursued a strategy of commercialisation that has undermined its public mandate. This is privatisation by stealth.

In the name of ‘social cohesion’ and ‘nation building’  the SABC has turned its back on the Xcluded majority. They pander to the interests of political and economic elites. We are silenced. We are not voiceless. We are Xcluded.

The ANC no longer has the legitimacy to govern. The market friendly ‘solutions’ offered by the elites have failed for decades. It is time for our voices to be heard. Our lives matter.

If South Africa is going to find democratic solutions to our structural problems the media must enable a ‘national debate’ that centres the lives and voices of the Xcluded majority.

The SABC, with its massive reach and public mandate, has a critical role to play in enabling a meaningful dialogue about our future.

We demand:

  1. The SABC Board must abandon their neo-liberal restructuring plan and invest in equity programming that serves the information and expression needs of the Xcluded majority.
  2. The SABC must launch a campaign demanding that Government fully fund public and community media to serve the public good 
  3. SABC producers and journalists must stop pandering to the ANC and find the courage to honour their journalism ethics. They must come into our communities tell our stories and report our voices.

We are not voiceless. We are being silenced. This must stop.

For media comment:

Khokhoma Motsi, 0734907623