n Journal of African Elections - Public servant or censor? The South African Broadcasting Corporation in the era of political television advertising

Volume 14, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1609-4700



Political television advertising is becoming an important feature of democratic elections and essential to election campaign strategies. In this article we take a close look at the role the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) is playing in the new era of political television advertising ushered in in 2009. We focus our analysis on the banning by the SABC of election advertisements by two major opposition political parties before the 2014 elections. The country's regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) upheld the decision of the SABC when the two parties filed complaints. The banning of the advertisements and Icasa's decision are assessed on two important principles for public broadcasting - editorial independence and public accountability. We argue in this article that the action by the public broadcaster undermines freedom of expression and the credibility of both the SABC and Icasa, especially when contextualised within other controversial editorial decisions taken by the broadcaster over the years. Further, we argue that laws governing political advertising in South Africa are constitutionally problematic and contain contradictions in how they should be applied and implemented by both broadcasters and Icasa. We conclude by arguing for a review of these laws.

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