In a judgement issued by the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) the acting chairperson, Prof HP Viljoen, ordered that the television news channel ANN7 must broadcast a public apology to the Glebelands Hostel Community Violence Victims and admit to gross negligence in its recent coverage of an event held at Glebelands, which put some community members lives at risk.
On 17 April 2016 Glebelands Hostel Community Violence Victims hosted a press conference to announce their appeal to the United Nations for assistance in bringing an end to the violence which has beset this community for many years. The news media present were repeatedly requested not to identify any of the hostel community members at the press conference, due to their fears for violent reprisal. These fears are well-founded. The press conference took place in the wake of the murder of ANC PR Councillor, Zodwa Sibiya (a Glebelands hostel resident), only the night before. A total of 64 people have now died at Glebelands since March 2014, and 14 tortured by police. Exposing the identities of the residents present at the press conference through the news media would pose a serious security risk to these vulnerable persons.
All news media outlets present at the event complied with this request, with the exception of ANN7. This broadcaster aired footage of the event on 18 April without heeding our request to conceal the identities of community members. We contacted ANN7 immediately, and requested that they desist from broadcasting the footage, which was also carried on the ANN7 website. ANN7 complied at this point, discontinued the broadcasting of the footage and removed it from the ANN7 website.
However, the following day on 19 April 2016, ANN7 again broadcast footage of the press conference and again posted such footage to its website, which clearly revealed the identities of some of our community members. Again, we had to request that they desist from doing so, since it put the lives of our people at great risk.
We subsequently lodged a complaint with the BCCSA, which was discussed at a Tribunal hearing on 8 September 2016. The Chairperson ruled that ANN7 should publically apologise, and this apology was broadcast on the evening of 20 September 2016. The content of that apology included an admission of gross negligence on the part of ANN7.
This a small but significant victory for the people of our community, who for too long have been failed by any authority, including SAPS, local government, parliament and the Public Protector, which could bring about positive change at Glebelands.
While this apology does nothing to alleviate the material or lived experiences of violence, crime and poverty faced by this community, it does offer some solace in that we are vindicated in our discontent with the manner in which ANN7 violated the basic principle of personal dignity (with regard to safety) in its representation of our community.
Although we condemn the actions of ANN7 which put our people at risk, we are pleased that ANN7 quickly and openly admitted to gross negligence, and offered to publically apologise. We are also pleased that ANN7 has committed to instituting internal communication measures to prevent similar lapses by the broadcaster in future.
We call for a revision of the BCCSA Code of Conduct, and the appointment of a BCCSA Public Advocate
We offer our sincere thanks to the BCCSA and its Commissioners, who dealt with our complaint expeditiously and with much concern for the harm that had been done to us by ANN7.
However, during the administration of our complaint we found that the BCCSA Code of Conduct is in need of revision. Our case highlighted and exposed how the current code does not offer adequate protection for persons at risk regarding their personal safety.
We call on the BCCSA to revise its Code of Conduct to include:
- Protections for person who are victims of all forms of violence, including but not exclusive to sexual violence;
- Where there is reasonable cause to believe that a person or persons may face danger, intimidation, harassment, reprisal or violence as a result of a broadcast, or where persons have requested that their identities be concealed for safety reasons, their personal identities may not be revealed;
- Some personal information, such as the addresses of places of work or residence, or personal communications particulars such as telephone numbers, may enable others to intrude on the privacy and safety of individuals who are the subject of news coverage. To minimise these risks, licensees should disclose only sufficient personal information to identify the persons being reported in the news;
- Licensees must:
- protect confidential sources of information – the protection of sources is a basic principle in a democratic and free society;
- not publish information that constitutes a breach of confidence, unless public interest dictates otherwise.
We also recommend the introduction of a Public Advocate at the BCCSA (similar to the Public Advocate at the Press Council of South Africa) in order to make this regulatory body more easily accessible to poor, grassroots and marginalised communities. Currently, the system is heavily weighted in favour of broadcasters, who have access to persons with expertise in media regulation (including lawyers) and who do not face challenges regarding their communications or administrative capacity. Poor communities, on the other hand, have mostly scant access to the communications media necessary to administer a complaint of this nature (including the Internet and telecommunications) which is unaffordable to the majority. Persons with expertise in media regulation are not easily accessible to poor and vulnerable communities or peoples.
We call on the BCCSA to appoint a Public Advocate, who could:
- assist complainants in formulating complaints against broadcasters with the BCCSA, and lodge these complaints on the complainants’ behalf;
- engage with complainants in a participatory manner and guide complainants through each step of the administration of the complaint;
- act as the appointed representative of the complainant where this is required before a tribunal.
We believe that the above is necessary if the BCCSA Code of Conduct and it structures are to be made more easily accessible, open and inclusive to persons from poor, marginalised and grassroots communities.
We have forwarded a detailed summary of our recommendations for the revision of the BCCSA Code of Conduct and the appointment of a Public Advocate to the BCCSA. We call on the BCCSA commissioners to address these concerns at their next meeting.
View ANN7’s public apology here: https://youtu.be/KyxyUNFtM6U
For more information contact:
Dr Julie Reid (appointed representative of the Glebelands Hostel Community Violence Victims in the BCCSA complaint against ANN7)
Cell: 082 885 8969
Email: [email protected]
Vanessa Burger, community liaison for the Glebelands Hostel Community Violence Victims)
Cell: 082 847 7766
Email: [email protected]