The drama at the SABC has become so everyday that most of us don’t have the time nor the energy to care about it anymore. So why should we?
With an estimated population of 55.6 million people, the public broadcaster reaches the most South Africans through its 20 radio stations (in all 11 official languages), and 5 television services (SABC 1, 2 and 3 and, on DStv, SABC Encore and SABC news). It is estimated that 7 million of 12 million TV-owning households in South Africa watch SABC. More importantly, 53.8% of the country’s population live in poverty and, for many, the public broadcaster is the only source of news and information.
Given this, the SABC is by far the largest and most influential broadcaster in South Africa in terms of reach, size and overall audience figures. It clearly plays a critical role in shaping public perception about various issues and events, and the public broadcaster can therefore be used to strengthen and promote democracy in the country or indeed severely undermine it. For example, the 2016 SABC policy that stated no news bulletin would show footage of violent protests in the lead-up to the Local Government Election, meant that for many of those who do not access other forms of information did not hear of the growing discontent with the ways in which municipalities were being run. A dysfunctional SABC therefore prevents us from truly protecting and enhancing the fundamental rights of all citizens to freedom of information.