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VOICES ARE COMING IN LOUD AND STRONG FROM SOUTH AFRICA : TV News Bureaus Remain Open Despite Warnings and Checking of Credentials

June 25, 1986|JAY SHARBUTT | Times Staff Writer

Despite warnings from South African officials against violating that nation's state-of-emergency restrictions on reporting, there have been no threats so far to shut down the CBS, NBC and ABC news bureaus there, network officials said Tuesday.

Their news staffs in Johannesburg are continuing to do their jobs, added the officials, contacted after both ABC and CBS Monday night aired taped excerpts of an interview with Winnie Mandela that violated restrictions imposed by the white-ruled government.

The interview with the wife of the imprisoned black nationalist leader was conducted by a crew from Britain's Independent Television (ITV) in defiance of the government's ban on journalists entering black townships in South Africa.

At press time Tuesday, no action had been reported taken against the British crew. But in another case on Tuesday, an Israeli newspaper correspondent was ordered to leave the country, a day after Newsweek correspondent Richard Manning was ordered out.

No reason was given for either order, nor was one given for last week's expulsion of CBS News cameraman Wim de Vos. CBS News President Van Gordon Sauter protested De Vos' deportation order and now seeks a meeting with South Africa's President, Pieter W. Botha, CBS says.

The harsh restrictions have been protested both by South African and foreign news organizations.

The government reportedly came close to closing the ABC News bureau in Johannesburg on Saturday, a day after ABC News president Roone Arledge said ABC's recent interview with Bishop Desmond Tutu had been "in clear violation" of the government's press restrictions.

Arledge, whose remarks at a Los Angeles press conference were taken as a direct challenge to the government's authority, also said Friday that ABC News is trying to "protest (the restrictions) as much as possible and to push the limits as much as possible."

When it appeared that its Johannesburg bureau might be shut down, ABC News on Saturday sent South African authorities a message that seemed an attempt to calm them.

It said that some of Arledge's remarks were quoted out of context and that ABC, while continuing to protest the press restrictions, would try to retain its bureau and "realizes that this involves compliance with the emergency regulations."

However, on Monday, David Burke, executive vice president of ABC News, said that ABC News is not backing down from Arledge's vow to both protest and contest South Africa's restrictions, which were imposed on June 12.

The regulations bar publication or broadcast of "subversive statements," descriptions or pictures of security-force actions and identification of anyone detained without charge. It also bars live broadcasts by foreign reporters without advance clearance.

ABC's interview with Tutu, the Nobel Prize-winning black prelate, aired last Wednesday on "World News Tonight." But it neither was aired live nor--as an ABC spokeswoman had said earlier--were Tutu's remarks transmitted live by satellite and taped in New York for same-day broadcast.

Instead, Burke said, anchorman Peter Jennings and Tutu were separately videotaped as they spoke by phone in New York and Johannesburg, respectively. Then, ABC's bureau sent the videotaped Tutu portion via satellite to New York.

There, the two segments were electronically "married" for the split-screen version that American viewers saw, Burke said.

The interview had to be done that way, he said, because the government wouldn't have allowed Tutu to be interviewed live at the only place where live broadcasts can be transmitted overseas--at the state-owned South African Broadcasting Co. offices.

In the interview, Tutu said there was "no question" that he was violating government restrictions by calling for stepped-up economic sanctions against the government, which specifically forbids statements endorsing such sanctions.

Although Monday's "NBC Nightly News" didn't carry the Winnie Mandela interview aired by CBS and ABC, the network's "1986" news-magazine series did air excerpts of its own interview with Mandela on Tuesday night. NBC said that the interview was taped shortly before South Africa's state-of-emergency regulations were imposed.

Whether that broadcast would land NBC in hot water with the authorities wasn't known. An NBC News spokeswoman on Tuesday said that South African officials had issued no warnings to NBC staffers that hadn't also been given other reporters.

Such warnings, she said, quoting NBC News foreign editor Jerry Lamprecht, consist of frequent requests for correspondents to show their press credentials, the taking of their names and "constant reminders" that deportation or even jail awaits those who violate the government's press restrictions.

No more serious warnings were reported, either, for ABC or CBS staffers in Johannnesburg, although a two-network dispute developed in New York after ABC's Monday broadcast of the Mandela interview.

CBS News Vice President David Bucksbaum said that the interview was to have been provided to CBS exclusively by ITV, but that ABC in London took the interview when it was being fed by satellite from South Africa and relayed it for use by "World News Tonight."

He said that CBS was sending a letter of protest to ABC News. A spokeswoman for ABC said that ABC News had a "long-standing relationship" with Britain's ITV and wasn't aware that the taped Mandela interview was exclusive to CBS.

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