The South African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) Justice and Peace Commission has called on the parliament to reconvene a committee on communications under National Assembly (NA) Rule 223 to address the broadcasting crisis while Parliament is in recess for the elections.
Bishop Abel Gabuza, chair of the SACBC Justice and Peace Commission, said: "Through its editorial policy and the subsequent crisis, an impression has been created that the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) is failing to report fully and objectively on events that have the capacity to diminish the holding of free and fair elections.
Certainly, this is a serious matter that requires urgent intervention by the National Assembly. We urge the portfolio committee on communications to demonstrate its oversight leadership."
The call was made after SABC rejected a recommendation by Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) to lift its ban on footage which shows state property being destroyed during protests.
In May‚ Media Monitoring Africa‚ the SOS Support Public Broadcasting Coalition and the Freedom of Expression Institute lodged a complaint with Icasa's complaints and compliance committee‚ challenging the validity of the SABC's ban on violent protests.
Responding to the decision by Icasa, SABC says it will fight to the highest court in the land if necessary.
Bishop Gabuza is concerned of the negative impact that such overdrawn crisis will have on the holding of free and fair elections. "People will not trust the outcome of the elections if the dispute regarding fair coverage and censorship by a public broadcaster is not resolved. As the forthcoming elections are heavily contested, it is in the interests of the common good, and a matter of urgency, that public confidence in the public broadcaster be restored. "
He added: "The parliament has the ability to do this. It has the authority to demand accountability from the minister and the SABC board on matters relating to SABC's adherence to the Broadcasting Act and the SABC Charter."
Violence during service delivery protests are common in South Africa. Recently, the protests have assumed a political significance before August 3 elections.
The Justice and Peace Commission is an advocacy body established by the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC) to tackle the structural roots of poverty and inequality. For more information see: http://sacbcjusticeandpeace.org/