South Africa: SABC to Take Disciplinary Action Against Those Implicated in Editorial Interference Report

SABC headquarters in Johannesburg (file photo).

The SABC released the findings of its year-long investigation into allegations of editorial interference on Monday.

The findings implicate a number of high-ranking staff members and government officials and, as such, the SABC says it will take disciplinary action against those who have been implicated.

Joe Thloloe, veteran journalist and former chairperson of the Press Council of SA chaired the commission of inquiry that looked into the matter and presented the report.

In the report, the commission found that the public broadcaster "suffered from the capricious use of authority and power to terrorise staff and to deflect the corporation from its mandate and editorial policies".

While it found no evidence of a direct connection with ANC headquarters Luthuli House, a "spectre of the ANC hovered over the newsroom", the report says.

From 2012 to 2017, SABC executives "took instructions from people with no authority in the newsroom," including SABC board member Ellen Tshabalala and former Minister of Communications Faith Muthambi. In this regard, the executives failed to carry out their duties stipulated in the editorial policies.

The investigation further found that, specifically, Nothando Maseko, Sebolelo Ditlhakanyane and Nyana Molete were pivotal to the execution of instructions from executives Hlaudi Motsoeneng, Jimi Matthews and Simon Tebele. The report says these three "succumbed because [of] threats of dismissal from their immediate superiors".

As such, staff morale was detrimental and the organisation was "crippled by pain, anger and fear".

CEO or COO not an editor-in-chief

The report also says "the designation of the GCEO or COO as editor-in-chief is not appropriate for the SABC".

There were seven recommendations in the report, including a review of Hlaudi Motsoeneng's instructions to the human resources department to institute disciplinary hearings against employees, and dismiss or promote others. An audit of appointments is to be conducted and reviewed and where gaps are found, these appointments must be reversed and re-advertised.

The commission also recommended:

- A News and Current Affairs Advisory Committee to advise journalists, editors and producers on editorial issues needs to be created.

- At least one workshop a year on editorial policies and ethics for staff.

- The corporation needs healing and as such, needs to attend team building activities focusing on the common good.

- A review of freelance workers' contracts "as these workers need to be a healthy window into the corporation".

- Upon findings that programmes were "arbitrarily canned, shortened or changed", there needs to be improved performance management at the level of individuals and programming.

Important milestone

SABC board member Bongumusa Makhathini, delivered a response from the SABC, saying this was an important milestone for the corporation.

He added that the SABC was deeply concerned by those individuals implicated in the report and as such, are committed to taking disciplinary action against these people. He stressed, however, that this was not a witch-hunt.

He added that the broadcaster would take the report into account before finalising the SABC's editorial policy before September this year.

Following recommendations made by a parliamentary ad hoc committee to deal with unlawful conduct, the SABC established two high-level commissions of inquiry - one probing sexual harassment and the other looking into editorial interference and "personal favours" in the newsroom.

The investigation was also established upon the binding recommendations of a Public Protector report as well as auditor-general reports which showed a breakdown at the public broadcaster.

Source: News24

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