SABC ban of DA flag ad against freedom of speech says monitor

  • The SABC has said that it will not be airing an advert from the DA that depicts the burning of the national flag of South Africa.
  • Media Monitoring Africa has said that the decision is against the right to freedom of expression as protected by the Constitution.
  • The advert has been a success for the DA, with leader John Steenhuisen saying it has garnered over four million views since its release.

The TV advert produced by the Democratic Alliance (DA) showing the digitalised “burning” of the South African flag before the burning is reversed has done exactly what it was supposed to do: get attention.

DA President John Steenhuisen has said that the flag-burning advert has been the most successful of its type in the democratic era of the country. Since its first release, it has recorded over four million views, he said.

Now after reactions from South Africans to the advert have been covered across multiple media sites, including our own, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), the state-owned and operated broadcaster, has announced that it would be banning the advert from airing on its channels.

The SABC has said that they will not be airing the DA advert unless the party “amend” it.

While it is not illegal according to the South African Constitution to burn the national flag and is not punishable by law, political parties in opposition to the DA have used the advert and the reaction against it as a new attack vector against the party. Specifically, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) has been the focus of these critical attacks.

But since it is the ANC government that operates the SABC, the banning of the advert has been called an affront to South African freedom of speech, according to Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), a media research, monitoring and analysis agency based in Johannesburg.

“The Campaign for Free Expression (CFE), Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), and SOS Support Public Broadcasting Coalition are deeply concerned at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC)’s statement rejecting the Democratic Alliance’s TV advertisement reflecting the burning of the South African national flag,” reads a statement from MMA.

“While the burning of the national flag is deeply offensive, and while many may be angered by the advertisement, it is precisely in moments where there is disagreement that freedom of expression needs to be protected. The decision which effectively bans the advert is a clear unjustifiable limitation on freedom of expression,” it adds.

MMA further explains that “in a democratic society, the exchange of diverse ideas and perspectives is fundamental; however at odds these perspectives may be to our own.”

It says that the censorship of content that may be considered offensive or controversial, especially at such a national stage is protected by the Constitutional Court under the right to freedom of expression.

This extends to statements that “offend, shock or disturb,” MMA says.

According to an announcement from the SABC, the DA will now be taking legal action against the SABC for their decision to ban the advert.

“These ANC deployees at the SABC are saying that because the ANC President and the ANC Minister don’t like the advert they are not going to show it to South Africa. They are banning the advert because they know it tells the truth about the ANC, they are banning the advert because they don’t want you to see what is really happening in South Africa,” remarked Steenhuisen.

On the campaign trail, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that the advert was “treasonous,” and that “it is the most despicable political act that anyone can embark upon.”


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