Is the SABC promoting social cohesion?

The SABC’s role in promoting social cohesion and non-racialism was explored at a seminar in Johannesburg.

Bessie Tugwana
Bessie Tugwana, acting chief operating officer at the SABC, speaks at a seminar exploring the public broadcaster’s role. (Image: Priya Pitamber)

Priya Pitamber

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) was there to serve its people, said the acting chief operating officer, Bessie Tugwana. This was one of the messages that came out of a seminar on the SABC’s Role in Promoting Social Cohesion.

The event was hosted by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation and the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism. Alongside Tugwana, other panellists included Emeritus Professor Pieter Fourie, a research fellow in the department of communication science at the University of South Africa, and Dr Caryn Abrahams from the Wits School of Governance.

Sound policy

Fourie opened the discussion by commending the Broadcasting Act of the 1990s. “These policies were state of the art, especially coming out of apartheid,” he said.

The seminar took place in Johannesburg on 29 August.

If the SABC would stick to its policy, said Fourie, there should not be any problems. He described the current issues facing the broadcaster as systematic and structural, referring to the SABC’s financial situation and leadership crisis.

But he said the broadcaster was doing a good job of promoting non-racialism and upholding journalistic professionalism. “I can still tune in to a news bulletin every night on TV, and radio shows.”

However, the SABC needed to justify its privileged position and adapt to a new media environment, he said. “Network communication is about interactivity, and it plays a bigger role. The SABC needs to take that into consideration.”

In agreement

Abrahams agreed that the broadcaster helped to build a cohesive society and promote a national identity.

“The SABC has done well in terms of language inclusion,” she said, using the example of Takalane Sesame.

Showing the audience an SABC advertisement from the 1990s, where the script was flipped between black and white people in South Africa, she said the SABC provided South Africans with a platform to discuss race.

See the ad:

Tugwana admitted that the SABC was not where it wanted to be, but pointed out that public broadcasting was essential. “[It] has to be the eyes and ears of the nation. Public broadcasting has to reflect what is, and not change it. That is the challenge.”

South Africa’s democracy still needed to be nurtured because it was so young. “Therein lies the role of the public broadcaster.”

Responding to Fourie’s comment about the new media environment, she said the organisation was looking into how it could enhance what was already done, even in the social media space.

The SABC was also about promoting languages, she said, picking up on comments from Abrahams.

“We see languages being eroded, but a language is an integral part of your being. When you lose it, you lose your essence.

“When you talk in your language, you are more confident and you are free to engage in dialogue.”

Accountability and credibility

Tugwana said the public broadcaster had a calling, a unique role, but agreed that it had lost credibility. “We started to rebuild it through engagement. The SABC is currently engaging the nation on the review of its editorial policies.

“We at the SABC need to earn the respect of the nation.”

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