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Court order prohibits SABC from implementing ‘the censorship decision’

The public broadcaster has been interdicted from implementing its controversial policy on violent protests.

Journalists and people from the media industry gathered outside the SABC in Auckland Park, dressed in black, in support of the national broadcaster's journalists who were suspended for raising concerns about policy changes. Picture: Christa Eybers/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) has been interdicted from implementing its controversial editorial policy on violent protests, which has widely been described as censorship.

The public broadcaster reached a settlement with the Helen Suzman Foundation, which brought an application to the High Court in Pretoria.

Seven journalists at the corporation were fired for speaking out against the policy.

The court order, which is now in place, states that SABC management is prohibited from implementing what the Helen Suzman Foundation calls "the censorship decision".

The urgent interdict stands until the court can deal fully with the lawfulness of the policy changes, which are in dispute.

SABC management is further prevented from implementing any decision which could result in violent protests, even where state property is destroyed, not being broadcast.

The order does, however, allow for the SABC to exercise editorial discretion in line with the Constitution, the Broadcasting Act and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa's Code of Conduct.

The order makes no finding on the lawfulness of the policy, nor does it make any reference to the status of the journalists who spoke out against it.

While the foundation has welcomed the outcome, the SABC says it will be guided by its legal team on the practical application of the order.

'WORDING TOO BROAD'

Earlier, counsel for the SABC told the court that it was willing to concede on the interdict not to implement the editorial policy.

However, it was argued that the wording of the draft order was far too broad, and would interfere with the broadcaster's editorial independence.

Counsel for parties later discussed how to word the order so that it wouldn't interfere in newsroom independence.

The foundation argued that the policy is being used to starve the public of critical information pertaining to government conduct, adding that censorship is plainly unlawful and unconstitutional.

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