18/01/2018 15:06 SAST | Updated 18/01/2018 15:06 SAST

Did Dlamini's R500,000 Interview On SABC3 Cross The Line?

Yes. And here's why.

Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini.
Thapelo Maphakela/Gallo Images/Getty Images
Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini.

The R500,000 payment made to SABC3 to interview Bathabile Dlamini over two hour-long episodes of "Real Talk With Anele" was inappropriate, problematic in many ways, and crossed the line – according to director of Media Monitoring Africa William Bird.

Speaking to HuffPost, Bird said there were a number of reasons the interview was problematic.

Payment not declared

Bird said viewers should have been told that the slot had been paid for.

"The fact that viewers were not told at any point that the two-hour special had been paid for is a problem. They could have said something like, 'This airtime has been paid for by the parties interviewed'. That would have been transparent – but because they didn't declare [that it was paid publicity], one [would assume] guests are selected on the basis of some editorial independence and integrity – when in fact it now appears that was not at all the case with Dlamini," Bird said.

"When you look at a show like 'Top Billing' for example, they have segments that you can clearly see are paid for. You don't watch the show under the illusion that you're getting an objective opinion about travel destinations in South Africa, or wherever. They're not that kind of show, and they don't claim to be," he added.

Government should have done better

Government knowingly buying editorial content to boost a minister's image and also not declaring that was another problem.

"Even if you say the SABC was wrong for accepting the money, you need to turn to government and ask how it can justify spending money on a piece that was not about the department or the work that they do, but about the minister herself as a person," Bird told HuffPost. "On what basis is that justifiable?

"People are not interested in the minister of social development [as a person]. We are interested in the portfolio because of the work that they do. So to use public funds – and even admitting to it – to pay for a puff piece on Dlamini is extraordinary. It also indicates the decline in respect of editorial integrity at the public broadcaster."

Bird said the department should have done better.

"If they wanted to advertise the department and its work with social grants and other things, then they should have approached the broadcaster and negotiated a good deal to get as much airtime as they needed.

"Similar concerns were raised after Dali Tambo profiled former Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, on his show 'People Of The South'. At the time, there was outrage [that] the whole thing had been set up as a lifestyle piece that disregarded the issues faced by the people of Zimbabwe under Mugabe."

Not the only one

According to Bird, the incident exposes a practice that is not exclusive to "Real Talk With Anele".

"It's a practice that has been going on at the SABC for some time and needs to be done away with. It is also a practice that people in government need to be held accountable for.

"I know of other news/current affairs programmes in which similar practices take place – where you're buying interviews with politicians and other individuals."

Since ther news broke, the show's presenter, Anele Mdoda, has taken to Twitter to share her views, while reminding critics that she had nothing to do with setting up the interview, nor did she receive any direct financial benefits from the R500,000 fee paid by the department.

The public broadcaster's acting group CEO, Nomsa Philiso, confirmed on Wednesday that the SABC had been paid R500,000 by the department of social development for the profile on Dlamini, Daily Maverick reported.