It is “outrageous” that the SABC claims it is “mandated to promote nation building and that the (DA’s flag) advert goes against that spirit”, says the Free Speech Union of South Africa.

In a statement, FSU SA director, Sara Gon, says: “Election advertising can range from the honest and hard-hitting, to the dishonest and hopeful. That is up to South Africans to decide.”

Responding to the state-funded broadcaster’s decision not to flight the advert – which, in part, depicts in graphical form a South African flag being consumed by flames – the FSU SA says: “Indeed, the flag represents the nation, and is not the possession of any political party or the government. It can be flown by or used by anyone. Flags are not representative of any person(s) or party(ies); they identify countries or organisations. They are not inherently worthy of respect.

“It is not the SABC’s duty to be the nation’s censor. The advert has been interpreted negatively by the ANC and certain sections of the media.

“However, many, including the Free Speech Union of South Africa, believe that it is the right of any South African to depict the flag in any manner in which they may choose to make a point. The depiction of the flag burning is allegorical, not literal. As a result a pictorial image of it burning (as opposed to actually burning) can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning.

“There is absolutely no doubt that the ANC and its partners have devastated the country in most respects in the last 15 years. This is not only the view of the ANC’s opponents.”

The FSU points out that, in the DA ad, a narrator speaks over an image of the South African flag slowly burning, saying: “For the first time in 30 years, the ANC will lose its majority. But they will do anything to stay in power. Imagine a coalition between the ANC, the violent EFF and the Zuma faction. Under this coalition of corruption, life will only get worse. This election is about survival.”

“Did the SABC not notice that the advert ends with the flag being restored to its original, unburnt form with the narrator saying, ‘Unite to rescue South Africa. Vote DA’?

“Many, including the FSU SA, would identify with the sentiment. That is not to say that the advert was appropriate or the best use of the DA’s money, but the SABC has certainly ensured the DA is getting the mileage the public broadcaster did not, presumably, intend it to get.”

The FSU SA says: “The SABC has a monopoly over the formal broadcast media, but it has demonstrated how it has bent its knee in having ‘noted the condemnation of the advertisement by the president of the republic and other government departments’ and adding that ‘as a responsible public broadcaster, the SABC will not be part of fuelling the outrage that is evidenced on divergent media platforms’.

“The president is not only the president of the country, he is also the president of the party responsible for the dire state the country is in. He himself is responsible for the most disappointing leadership imaginable. The hope that he would correct the excesses of the Zuma presidency has been more than dashed.

“The fact that the SABC, which is a public broadcaster but is de facto a state broadcaster, says it is mandated to promote nation building and that the advert goes against that spirit, is outrageous. Election advertising can range from the honest and hard-hitting, to the dishonest and hopeful. That is up to South Africans to decide. The FSU SA understands that DA leader John Steenhuisen has expressed outrage at the SABC’s decision and has said his party will take the broadcaster to court to ‘defend our constitution’.

“The flag is a symbol, not a religious icon. Even if someone wants to go into the street and literally burn the flag in protest against anything, they must be entitled to do that. How the public reacts is another thing altogether.

“If people want to complain about the advert to Icasa or the Advertising Regulatory Board, they are free to do so, and that includes the president. That’s not the SABC’s function.

“Ironically, by choosing to be undemocratic and censorious to appease government critics, the SABC merely reinforces the message set out in the advert.

“Whether the SABC flights the advert or not, it doesn’t have the licence to tell the public, who collectively own the SABC, how they should interpret it. South Africans can interpret the advert as they see fit.”