History only repeats itself when no one listens the first time. And if one winds back the clock to the Public Protector report in 2014, it highlighted the pressure Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s last bungled staff cutting exercise put on the balance sheet of the SABC. This after the 14 suspended journalists successfully challenged the ruling in court, it cost R29 million. Madonsela recommended disciplinary action against Motsoeneng but it went by unnoticed. Fast forward two years, and it’s a repeat. Motsoeneng suspended eight journalists, subsequently firing them all. If you don’t discipline a misdemeanour the first time, it’s like history, the perpetrator is likely to repeat the offence. And the only people who will gain from such an action are the courts and lawyers – taxpayers, staff and the SABC itself are set to lose out. And the bigger concern is that it’s a distraction with the municipal elections, expected to be the most important since 1994, just over two weeks away. – Stuart Lowman
SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s last bungled staff purge cost the public broadcaster millions, according to a Public Protector report released in 2014.
The SABC this week sacked eight journalists for disagreeing with a decision to censor coverage of protests, before the disciplinary cases against some of them had been concluded. Trade unions Solidarity and Bemawu intend taking their cases to court.
In February 2014, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela released a report, When Governance and Ethics Fail. She found that Motsoeneng’s irregular termination of the employment of senior employees had cost the broadcaster millions, due to its “procedural and substantive injustices”.
Most of the cases were handled without following proper procedure. All 14 suspensions and terminations were successfully challenged in court and at the CCMA.
“The substantial amounts of money paid to SABC’s employees as settlements during protracted suspensions, terminations and/or long drawn-out labour dispute proceedings and protracted litigations caused unnecessary and avoidable costs to the national broadcaster, thus resulting in fruitless and wasteful expenditure,” Madonsela found.
The avoidable legal fees and settlement awards contributed to an unprecedented R29m salary bill escalation.
Madonsela recommended the SABC board take disciplinary action against Motsoeneng for misrepresenting his qualifications, abusing his power, and for the purging of senior staff.
The SABC has still not acted on Madonsela’s recommendations despite lengthy court processes.
Seven SABC reporters were fired this week. The eighth person dismissed was freelance journalist Vuyo Mvoko, whose contract was terminated.
It emerged earlier on Tuesday that the broadcaster had fired Busisiwe Ntuli, a specialist producer for investigative programme Special Assignment, and Lukhanyo Calata, an SABC journalist in Cape Town. Economics editor Thandeka Gqubule confirmed later that she had also been sacked.
‘Terminated with immediate effect’
Solidarity said on Monday that it wanted the suspensions of, and disciplinary action against, the SABC journalists set aside. This was pending its application to the Constitutional Court for direct access, so it could rule on the lawfulness of the SABC’s censorship instructions.
Krige, Venter, Pillay and Steenkamp would approach the Labour Court on Thursday, with Solidarity’s help. Media workers’ union Bemawu said its members, Ntuli and Calata, were also approaching the court.
Analyst and media personality Eusebius McKaiser shared the SABC’s letter to Calata on Twitter.
“It has now become clear to the SABC that you have no intention to refrain from your conduct of undermining the SABC and the authority of its management. In the premise, your continued acts of misconduct have become intolerable. Your employment with the SABC is thus terminated with immediate effect,” it reads.
Gqubule, Krige, and Venter were served suspension letters after they disagreed with an instruction during a diary conference not to cover the Right2Know campaign’s protest against censorship at the SABC.
That protest was in response to Motsoeneng’s decision, announced in May, to stop airing footage of the destruction of property during protests. This caused outrage from civil society and media organisations.
Following this, the SABC charged Ntuli, Pillay, and Steenkamp for “liaising with the media” without authorisation. They wrote to Motsoeneng expressing their dissatisfaction with how operations had been managed at the SABC recently.
Calata joined a protest march outside the SABC’s offices in Cape Town earlier in the month.
The Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) ruled on July 11 that the SABC had to withdraw its resolution to ban the broadcasting of violent protests.
Motsoeneng said after the ruling that no one could tell the SABC what to do and that they would challenge Icasa’s decision in court. – News24
South African broadcaster in censorship storm before local vote
By Tanisha Heiberg and Tiisetso Motsoeneng
JOHANNESBURG, July 20 (Reuters) – When the acting boss of South Africa’s public broadcaster stepped down this month, he said he had deliberately limited reporting on one of the main opposition parties.
Jimi Matthews’ comments added to concerns among opposition politicians, activists, and the public that the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) was being used as a state propaganda tool less than four weeks from local elections that are expected to be the most closely-contested in two decades.
The SABC denies Matthews’ assertions, while the ruling African National Congress (ANC) denies seeking to influence the broadcaster’s coverage.
The broadcaster, the nation’s primary source of news, has its own independent board with a constitutional mandate to serve the public but insiders say separation from the ANC and the state only exists on paper.
“Certain individuals in the ruling party … were of the view that we should not be giving Julius and his crowd coverage,” said Matthews, who resigned citing a “prevailing, corrosive atmosphere” at the broadcaster.
Some journalists at SABC, which reaches more than 20 million people with 18 radio stations and four television channels, also say they have been jolted by Chief Operating Officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s decision in May not to air footage of anti-government protesters rioting and destroying property.
Motsoeneng did not respond to repeated phone and email attempts by Reuters to contact him via the SABC.
Motsoeneng, who has pushed through a number of changes aimed at increasing local content and what he called “positive news”, is considered by some political analysts to be close to President Jacob Zuma.
Zuma’s popularity has been sagging as he grapples with record-high unemployment, a looming recession and a string of scandals.
SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago denied the broadcaster’s editorial decisions were tailored to make the state, ANC and Zuma look good and defended its policy not to air footage of the violent protests.
“We are not going to show footage of people who are destroying property but we are still going to explain everything and tell people what has happened, and if that is censorship then I don’t understand,” he told Reuters.
The broadcaster announced the protests policy in May, saying showing the footage would encourage others to carry out similar violence.
“We are confident if anybody were to establish an inquiry into this matter, we would be found squeaky clean,” Mthembu told Reuters.
The broadcasting regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), has already ordered the SABC to reverse the decision not to air footage of violent protests.
ICASA spokesman Paseka Maleka declined to comment on any broader governance issues at SABC, saying the regulator had only scrutinised the complaint about the protests coverage, lodged by a media monitoring group.
Outbursts of violence over the lack of services such as water or roads are common in South Africa and in recent months have included the torching of schools and other property, both public and private.
The protests have taken on political significance before Aug. 3 elections, which are expected to be the ANC’s sternest test at the polls since it came to power in 1994.
One SABC source said that following a management workshop held on June 7-8 this year, Motsoeneng told reporters that everyone else could be questioned in the broadcaster’s news programmes except Zuma because the 73-year old leader deserved to be respected, particularly at the SABC.
Reuters could not independently verify that Motsoeneng made these comments.
SABC spokesman Kganyago did not respond to repeated email and phone requests for comment from both the broadcaster and Motsoeneng about this incident.
For the past three years, the SABC has repeatedly said publicly that its bulletins should contain 70 percent “positive news”, with Motsoeneng telling the Mail & Guardian newspaper in 2013 that positive stories helped build the nation.
Last week, at a news conference in which the SABC said it would challenge ICASA’s ruling on banning footage of riots, Motsoeneng accused the South African media of censoring “good news”.
“Why are we not seeing good news stories? If you’re not showing good stories, what do you call it? I think it is a censorship,” he said.
An SABC source said journalists were struggling to put a positive spin on some items that include reporting on scandal-hit Zuma, who has fended off accusations of corruption, influence peddling, and rape.
The canning of a popular talk show hours before it went on air to discuss the Guptas, a business family with close ties to Zuma, also fuelled perceptions among critics that the broadcaster was being influenced by the government.
“I was summarily informed there would be no next show,” show host Vuyo Mvoko said in a front-page editorial published in the Star newspaper with the headline: “My hell at the SABC”. He declined to comment beyond the article.
Zuma has denied numerous allegations from opposition politicians that the Guptas wield undue influence over him. The Guptas have also repeatedly dismissed such accusations, saying they are pawns in a political plot to get Zuma out of office.
SABC has not given any reasons for cancelling the show.
By Ahmed Areff