JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's ruling African National Congress said on Tuesday the public broadcaster, accused by opposition parties of pro-government bias ahead of local elections, was practicing censorship by not broadcasting violent anti-state protests.
The comments by party chief whip Jackson Mthembu represent a U-turn and may point to schisms in the ANC, which in May welcomed the broadcast ban by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) as the "best decision."
"When property is burnt, people of South Africa need to be shown those images, that is the ANC view. Because when you don't show those images, that amounts to censorship," Mthembu said in a televised media briefing.
"You can't take that decision, in our view. That decision can be taken by the people of South Africa. Not anybody sitting in some cozy office to decide and be that arrogant and decide what it is that the people can see or not see," he said.
SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng, who has pushed through a number of policy changes at the broadcaster, is seen as close to President Jacob Zuma, whose popularity has been sagging against the backdrop of record unemployment and looming recession.
Mthembu said the ANC had not been consulted on the policy change, a move he said showed "scant disregard for the governing party."
Mthembu said the ANC would be meeting Communications Minister Faith Muthambi on Monday to discuss the SABC, where the acting CEO, a journalist, resigned last week citing a "corrosive atmosphere".
Outbursts of violence over the lack of social services such as water or roads are common in South Africa but have taken on political significance in the run-up to the Aug. 3 local elections, which are expected to be the ANC's sternest test at the polls since it came to power in 1994.
Various civil society and media groups have protested the broadcast ban on civil disturbances by the SABC, which has the widest broadcasting reach in South Africa.
(Reporting by Tanisha Heiberg; Writing by Ed Stoddard; Editing by James Macharia)