The media and politicians have always been at odds with each other: where the media seeks to hold power to account, politicians are afraid of tarnishing their public image. At the centre of it all, however, is the truth. 

In South Africa, democracy is about upholding truth, transparency and free speech, but it should not amount to harm or hate. 

This week the country’s emotions were stirred by the Democratic Alliance’s pre-election advert which showed a South African flag on fire – which was meant to symbolise what might happen to South Africa if the ANC, the “violent EFF and the Zuma Faction” form a coalition and lead the country. The burning is reversed with a call to South Africans to vote for the DA to rescue South Africa. 

South Africans have expressed that burning South Africa’s flag, which represents the diversity, struggle and pride of our nation, is an insult. 

On this basis, state broadcaster, SABC announced that it rejected the DA’s advert and would not air it on its channels unless the main opposition amends the advert 

“The SABC has been monitoring the outcry from South Africans of all races condemning the advertisement which is currently in circulation on various media platforms,” the broadcaster said in a public statement 

“Likewise, the SABC believes that this advertisement encourages damage of treasured national symbols. The national flag is a national symbol which represents diverse elements of the country and national unity. Additionally, it is expected that the national flag should be accorded with dignity and respect. Thus, the flag is not a representation of a political party but the nation at large.” 

The statement went on to say “As a responsible public broadcaster, the SABC will not want to be part of fueling the outrage that is evidenced on divergent media platforms.” 

The DA called the SABC’s rejection and refusal to air the advert  censorship. 

But an independent communications law consultant who specialises in broadcasting, media and telecommunications, Professor Justine Limpitlaw said the advert was provided by the opposition party to flight, and the SABC does not have the right to censor it or political advertising as a whole. 

She said the advert does not contravene the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s regulations, and the SABC has no control over whether the advert can or cannot be aired.  

“They can’t pick and choose ads that they like and ads that they don’t like,” she said. 

The SABC, however, stated some of the words used in the advertisement are subject to a formal complaint lodged with ICASA against the SABC and broadcasting it would be prejudicial to the SABC. 

The state broadcaster called on the DA to amend the ad and resubmit for broadcast. 

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