S.African public broadcaster rebuked ahead of vote

A Protester in chained hands and a gas mask atop his head rallies with others outside the offices of South Africa's public broadcaster on July 1, 2016 in Johannesburg to protest against alleged bias and self-censorship in news coverage (AFP Photo/John Wessels) (AFP/File)

Johannesburg (AFP) - South Africa's communications authority on Monday slapped down the public broadcaster's new policy of not screening violent protests amid a dispute over alleged censorship ahead of key municipal elections.

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) said in May it had imposed the ban to discourage copycat protests.

But the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) ordered the broadcaster to reverse the decision.

"The SABC is directed to withdraw its resolution (to) no longer broadcast footage of the destruction of public property during protests," ICASA said.

The SABC, the primary news source for millions of South Africans, has been accused of bias and self-censorship favouring President Jacob Zuma and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party.

The ANC faces tricky local elections on August 3, when opposition parties hope to gain ground due to record unemployment and frustration at poor education and housing more than 20 years after the end of apartheid.

SABC board chair Mbulaheni Maguvhe said the broadcaster stood by its policy and was reviewing the regulator's ruling.

"We still believe this is a moral and conscious decision... Freedom of speech and information doesn't mean that we should expose our children to these visuals that grow them to be hooligans," he said.

In May, the SABC, which has 20 radio stations and three TV stations, stopped its early morning shows from reading out newspaper headlines, many of which are critical of the government.

Several SABC journalists face disciplinary hearings after criticising its editorial policy, while others have been suspended for allegedly questioning orders to not cover a protest.

The latest Ipsos opinion polls suggest that the ruling ANC could lose three major cities -- Pretoria, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth -- to the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA).

Last week, the party distanced itself from what it called the broadcaster's censorship and lack of leadership.