Cape Town – The Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) found that episodes of the SABC's Isidingo didn't breach the Broadcasting Act and that the SABC3 weekday soap isn't guilty of promoting violence between races or hate speech because it's a TV drama.
Several complaints were lodged with the BCCSA in April and May after Isidingo showed scenes in which a black character Sechaba, was assaulted and buried alive by two white Afrikaans farmers after he visited his dad's grave on their farm.
Viewers were shocked and thought the character died, but in the next episode he was dug out and returned home with injuries.
The BCCSA received 109 complaints over the Endemol Shine Africa soap's episodes broadcast on 26 April, and 1, 2 and 3 May ranging from incitement of hatred, racism, offensiveness, irresponsible broadcasting and perpetuation of anger to breaking down racial harmony in South Africa.
Of these 35 complaints complied with the requirements of valid complaints and were accepted.
The SABC argued before the BCCSA that "the Sechaba story is intended to address an important and complex part of our history and the present day South Africa."
The SABC said "the story hopes to speak to the preconceived notions and stereotypes on both sides of the colour divide that still needs to be addressed in order for the country to find healing."
The SABC said Endemol Shine Africa noticed an incident reported in November 2016 in Middelburg, Mpumalanga, where two white men allegedly forced a black man into a coffin and threatened to pour petrol over him and to put a snake with him in the coffin. "This ostensibly inspired the writers of Isidingo to cast this in the episode complained about".
Isidingo episode was not hate speech
The BCCSA said "it takes no special knowledge of the South African psyche to realise that these scenes stirred up deep emotions among black and white people alike: for black people the indignation about one of their kin being humiliated in this way, and for white people, the way in which they are still being stereotyped as racist and cruel to black people".
"The gist of the complaints is that the broadcast was irresponsible, very offensive to black and white alike, damaging to what has been achieved in the area of race relations and causing hatred between the races and perpetuating anger and racism".
The BCCSA in its judgment said that "freedom of speech and freedom of expression are hard-won rights in our democracy and should not be easily limited".
"Although we realise that many viewers of the Isidingo episodes which are the subject of these complaints, were upset and offended by what they saw, that was not sufficient to find that the broadcasts amounted to hate speech".
SABC wants to stimulate struggle for land debate
"We were informed that with these episodes the SABC intended to promote democracy by setting up a debate about racial relations and the struggle for land."
"Even if we had found that the broadcasts constituted hate speech, the SABC would still have been saved by clause 5 of the Broadcasting Code because our finding is that Isidingo is a TV drama and therefore not subjected to the limitations to freedom of expression contained in clauses 3 and 4 of the Code".
SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago in a statement from the public broadcaster after the judgment said the Isidingo episodes "portrayed scenes where a black character was assaulted by two white farmers".
"The BCCSA reviewed the episodes and found that the public service broadcaster was not in contravention".
"The SABC as a public service broadcaster will always strive to depict what is happening in our society as they are, whilst upholding its editorial policy and the BCCSA's Code of Conduct.