By Pete Vernon
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's telecoms regulator ordered the public broadcaster on Monday to reverse its decision to stop airing footage of violent protests, a policy which critics said amounted to censorship.
Opposition parties have accused the South African Broadcasting Corporation of pro-government bias before local elections on Aug. 3, set to be the sternest test for the ruling African National Congress (ANC) since it came to power in 1994.
SABC said its decision, taken in May, was aimed at avoiding glamorising violence at protests, which are common over issues such as the poor provision of water or roads, but which have taken on added political significance ahead of the elections.
On Monday, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), directed SABC "to withdraw its resolution as published in its statement of 26 May 2016, which states that the SABC will no longer broadcast footage of destruction of public property during protests."
SABC Chief Operating Officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng said he would challenge ICASA's decision through the legal system.
"No one is going to tell us what to do! We at SABC are not apologetic on the issues we believe in," Motsoeneng told a news conference.
Motsoeneng is seen as close to President Jacob Zuma whose popularity has sagged amid record unemployment and looming recession.
The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), said: "Today’s ruling by ICASA is the beginning in fixing the mess created by ANC-appointed Hlaudi Motsoeneng who has been unrelenting in his crusade to turn the SABC into an output station for the ANC’s sunshine news."
Criticism of the broadcaster has even come from within the ANC, with the party's chief whip, Jackson Mthembu, accusing the SABC of censorship.
(Editing by James Macharia and Robin Pomeroy)