A court bid by The Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF) against the SABC succeeds in what has been a tumultuous and highly controversial period for South Africa’s public broadcaster.

The order came after repeated allegations of censorship against the SABC as it refused to cover violent protests and demonstrations “which included damage to public institutions and/or public or private property”.

The case made by HSF, a pro-democracy group, was based on the fact that as a public broadcaster (PSB) the SABC is obliged to cover events impartially, especially those of public and national importance. As such, any ban on the coverage of protests would be contrary to its mandate as a PSB.

The High Court’s interdict, issued on Wednesday morning, ensures that the SABC can no longer impose a policy of censorship or ban upon what its reporters cover, especially if it infringes upon this mandate.

However, the order did come with a caveat. According to Eyewitness News, the interdict only stands until a time when the court can “deal fully with lawfulness of policy changes, which are in dispute”. Furthermore, the SABC’s counsel, Bantubonke Tokota SC, stated that the SABC would only standby the interdict as long as it maintained its editorial independence.

The court order follows a week of escalations in the SABC debacle, where eight journalists were dismissed from the organisation for disagreeing with its ban on reporting violent protests. Civil rights groups have condemned the broadcaster’s actions, with trade unions Solidarity and Bemawu threatening further court action. A crowdfunding initiative has been set up in support of those fired.

News24 also reported that Afrikaans news presenter Ivor Price resigned from his post last week in a statement saying “I can’t remain silent anymore”.

The full high court order can be read here, courtesy of The Helen Suzman Foundation.

By Kristian Porter