24 June 1997

The Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) notes with concern the decision by SABC 3 to withdraw the programme, "Guru Busters", from its scheduled broadcasts.

The programme, which deals with a campaign by Rationalists in India to demonstrate the science behind miracles,  was to have been screened at 22:15 this evening, but was withdrawn following representations "from various quarters". The SABC decided too that the programme may be in conflict with the corporationís editorial code in that it could be offensive to the religious beliefs of some viewers.

The FXI respects the right of religious communities to counter apparent threats to their faith or religious convictions. However, we do not believe that these measures should involve censorship or an obstruction to the free flow of information. We believe it can and should be conducted within the context of free and open debate, where people are able to hear all opinions and are not denied the opportunity to air their views openly and honestly.

We believe the decision by the SABC to withdraw "Guru Busters" sets a bad precedent for the editorial independence of the SABC and raises the fear of other programmes being withdrawn from the air (and effectively censored) due to complaints from certain groupings. The SABC as public broadcaster cannot cater to only a select group of South Africans, but should serve the information needs of all South Africans. As such it cannot allow its editorial decisions to be interfered with by small or powerful groupings, be they from civil society or government.

The decision to withdraw "Guru Busters" flies in the face of the decision by the SABC to screen the documentary Jihad in America in November 1995 despite objections from certain sections of the Muslim community. At the time, the FXI welcomed and supported the SABCís decision to screen the documentary along
with a panal discussion during which certain Muslim representatives were able to  air their views and discuss or debunk the "objectionable" issues raised in the documentary. We believe this is the correct way of approaching sensitive programmes in a democratic society, and particularly programmes of a religious nature.

The FXI strongly urges the SABC to reconsider its decision to withdraw "Guru Busters" and allow those groupings who have objections to the content of the programme to be given a fair chance to air their views and have their objections heard, instead of denying the public an opportunity to view the programme.