SABC News (DStv channel 404) scraps all TV news bulletins in all national languages except English

PEN Afrikaans and PEN South Africa strongly object to the proposed cancellation of additional TV news bulletins in other indigenous South African languages on SABC News (DStv channel 404) from 1 April 2015.

This decision shows a clear lack of commitment from our public broadcaster to the multilingualism and linguistic rights enshrined in the South African Constitution and Bill of Rights.

This lack of commitment is sadly ironic, considering that the SABC states on its website and in marketing material “a unique selling point is SABC News Channel’s multilingual programming” and that SABC News is delivered “to audiences in all 11 South African official languages”.

Hlaudi Motsoeneng, COO of the SABC, said at the launch of SABC News that the channel is an opportunity for the public broadcaster to “enhance its public service mandate and extend its focus on provincial stories and the different official languages”.

As affiliates of PEN International, both PEN Afrikaans and PEN South Africa, subscribe to the 2011 Girona Manifesto on Linguistic Rights which contains PEN International’s 10 central, guiding principles on linguistic rights. Principles one, two and nine state the following:

1. Linguistic diversity is a world heritage that must be valued and protected.
2. Respect for all languages and cultures is fundamental to the process of constructing and maintaining dialogue and peace in the world.  
9. The media is a privileged loudspeaker for making linguistic diversity work and for competently and rigorously increasing its prestige.

In the light of these considerations, PEN Afrikaans and PEN South Africa believe it is the duty of the SABC as a public broadcaster committed to peaceful dialogue and communication in a multicultural, multilingual society, to reconsider its decision to cancel all TV news bulletins in languages other than English on SABC News.

If the SABC wants to opt for English only on a news channel created to serve all South Africans at a time where the country is divided by a heated debate about the British colonial legacy of Cecil John Rhodes, it is surely obliged to consult with the public it intends to inform and empower.