Comment: Mbuyisi Mgibisa
For a long time, the SABC has disproportionately neglected and glossed over issues that affect ordinary citizens and the poor.
With its new social reconstruction initiative, the SABC has finally discovered a keen humanitarian concern for the people of SA.
According to the SABC, Touching Lives is the social campaign by the public broadcaster to touch lives and help those in need in SA.
I first noticed the Touching Lives initiative recently when the SABC reported that a gang had stormed into a rural homestead in the Eastern Cape, hacking to death a grandmother and four grandchildren.
At the end of the newscast, the SABC called on the people who would like to help the grieving family to contact it.
It further requested anyone with information regarding the gruesome murders to contact the police or the SABC through its Touching Lives initiative.
Since then, the government has built new houses for the surviving Bambusiba family members.
I don't have a problem with the SABC's initiative. As a public broadcaster, the SABC is supposed to serve the public.
But I have a problem when the public broadcaster's Touching Lives is presented as a newscast.
The line separating the news from the public broadcaster's social responsibility function currently looks blurred at the SABC.
Moreover, I have a problem when the public broadcaster uses public resources to assist the police in their investigations.
Historically, the relationship between law enforcement agencies and the news media has been fraught with conflict.
The media should not act, in any way, as an agent of law enforcement agencies or assist the police in their investigations.
In this time of commercial media and free-to-air television that thrive on ideological anger, the SABC's Touching Lives initiative is to be welcomed.
However, I'm not sure if it is a correct thing to do to house it under the news division.
Now that current SABC news boss Phil Molefe has used this Touching Lives initiative as a corporate social responsibility tool to rebuild and bolster the public broadcaster's tattered image, he can now focus on the business of news.
Some commentators have criticised Molefe's current news strategy as a rehash of the ANC's five priorities of education, health, rural development, crime and job creation.
My view is that at least there's a strategy in place at the broadcaster.
When Molefe was appointed, I asserted that he would not risk departing from the policies of the SABC's proprietors and main funder, the government. If his new strategy had departed from the ANC's five priorities he would have been shown the door a long time ago.
How can we then expect Molefe to shed bad habits inherited under former SABC news boss Snuki Zikalala, who was always indignant when the impartiality and independence of his position was called into question?
How can we even expect the SABC to challenge the official mendacity of the government?
The public desperately needs a public broadcaster that offers diverse, independent and critical viewpoints.
It's time the SABC understands that the real power of public media lies in its ability to set the public-interest agenda of all South African citizens.
It's high time that it understands that the public is not the government. Yet for all the SABC's virtues of commercial media and the elements state and public broadcasting, there's no indication that even the proposed Public Service Broadcasting Bill will succeed in clarifying the public interest obligations of the public broadcaster.
Mgibisi is a freelance journalist, independent commentator and a young entrepreneur.