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SAMNET, MRN welcome ruling on SABC

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The South African Media Review Network (SAMNET) has welcomed a decision by the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA), in which they dismissed complaints leveled against the SABC over supposed bias in its new coverage of the Gaza conflict. In a statement released on Monday, the BCCSA announced that it would not uphold two complaints issued against the public broadcaster, which accused them of ‘one sided reporting’ and showing Israel in a bad light.

Both complaints relate to news reports conduct on the public broadcaster, the first of which stems from a 6:30pm bulletin on SABC3. The second complaint involves a news bulletin on the 17th July, and accuses SABC of showing definite bias towards the Palestinian cause.

But SAMNET chairperson, Dr. Faisal Suliman, questioned the basis of the complaints, particularly since the SABC had previously come under fire for its supposed pro-Israeli stance.

“For the first 10 or 12 days of the Gaza conflict, they did nothing on it. We hammered on Twitter, on email, and we sent them constant daily updates. It was only later on that they started covering some of the issues,” he said.

Amongst SAMNET’s qualms with the public broadcaster was the perceived free reign given to Israeli ambassador, Arthur Lenk, who reportedly made numerous appearances on the SABC, often without any representative from the Palestinian perspective. As a result, SAMNET themselves had taken to issuing several complaints to the BCCSA.

“There were about five interviews done with the Israeli ambassador on the afternoon show on SABC, and also with the Palestinian spokesperson. My complaint was that, although it was an interview with the ambassador, it was more allowing him to say what he wanted to, unchallenged,” he said.

Furthermore, he suggested the tone taken with the Palestinian representative was contrastingly different, and more along the lines of an interrogation.

He attributed the dismissed complaints down to Israel’s Hasbara campaign, aimed at spreading propaganda that would dominate the news, and spread their own narrative of the conflict with Palestine.

The Media Review Network (MRN) hailed the ‘new nuances’ applied by the BCCSA, in their manner of addressing and dismissing the complaints. MRN executive member, Iqbal Jassat, said the complaints were rejected on the basis of “two very important and groundbreaking thresholds”. Most notable was the BCCSA’s suggestions that the public broadcaster need not observe the same level of balance for international stories, as they were obligated to afford to domestic news stories. The reason for this was because most of their information came from alternative foreign sources, making it difficult for local reporters to verify claims made by either side.

“It is almost impossible for any journalist, on the ground or outside, to independently verify the claims the Israelis have been making with regards to civilians being held as hostages by Hamas. Also that facility’s such as hospitals are being used to launch missiles,” he said.

Throughout the 60 day long conflict in Gaza, extensive reports and debates were made surrounding how the media should address the issue. Jassat noted an “exciting new breeze” that had surfaced in media coverage, where they were not being required to spread ‘false balance’.

“You currently have a situation where people are subjugated as a consequence of an occupation. Media therefore, has a commitment to report truth and justice against a so called ritualistic balance,” he said. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)

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