JOHANNESBURG — A plan by the SABC to cut its religious programming by 75% to 106 minutes per week has drawn threats of fire and brimstone from groups across the religious spectrum.
Also being cut as part of a drastic cost-reduction plan by South Africa’s pubcaster are 1,400 jobs as well as breakfast television, documentaries and arts-oriented programming.
The cuts, according to incoming head of television Molefe Mokgatle, will streamline the service and make it commercially viable.
“Finance is going to drive (the SABC) for the next two to three years,” Mokgatle said. “There will be no program on air that is not profitable.”
While the arts community mustered a muted protest, the cries from religious leaders were loud and clear.
The Religious Broadcasting Panel, an SABC advisory body comprising members of all religions, castigated the corporation.
“The action is a sad reflection on the SABC and its ability to understand the requirements of a democratic nation,” the panel said in a statement.
Martin Frische, chairman of the Assn. of Christian Broadcasters, warned of disaster awaiting a society that ignored religion.
The SABC’s decision, he added, comes at a time “when there are already signs of deterioration of moral values, and crime in our nation escalates daily.”
Muslim theologian Abie Dawjee, member of the Independent Religious Broadcasting Forum, said the forum was appalled by cuts in religious broadcasting in general and Muslim broadcasting in particular.
“We need sober ministering of religious broadcasting to appeal to the humanity in the person,” he said. “After all, we continually see violence graphically illustrated on our screens all the time, fanning the flames of crime and violence in the country.”
Under the former apartheid government, Dawjee added, all religious broadcasting was Christian-based.
“Now that we get a little, even that is going to be taken from us.”
The proposed cutbacks, which have still to be approved by the SABC board, have also been condemned by Jewish and Hindu leaders.