South Africa: Breaking | eNCA Boots News Director Kanthan Pillay Over 'Rats' Tweet, Journalist's Suspension Lifted

Screenshot of a tweet by Samkele Maseko.
20 December 2019

eNCA has announced it "has parted company with its director of news Kanthan Pillay with immediate effect".

Pillay was widely criticised after he referred to political journalist Samkele Maseko's move from the news channel to rival, SABC News, as "rats swimming toward a sinking ship".

"After intense overnight investigation and consultation, the channel decided it had no alternative but to end its relationship with him. Although he was acting in an individual capacity and his posting was unsolicited, he was nonetheless a senior member of staff and the channel believes there was no room for any other outcome and that damage control was imperative," read the statement just after 12:30pm.

The news channel said "[s]erious allegations have also been levelled at eNCA about Pillay's censorship of stories and his management style".

"The channel takes the allegations of censorship very seriously."

eNCA said it would cooperate "fully" with the South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) which requested a meeting with management to seek clarity on Pillay's appointment.

Pillay was appointed director of news six months after he led the Purple Cow party during the 2019 national and provincial elections.

Editor-in-Chief Jeremy Maggs said: "All news organisations have one currency and that is credibility. It is clear this negative attention has adversely affected eNCA's reputation and credibility. However with the talented and dedicated staff we have, I believe the channel can recover. Right now our immediate priorities are to mend strained relationships and to rebuild credibility with its audience and other stakeholders as soon as possible."

Meanwhile, the suspension of journalist Khayelihle Khumalo had been lifted following pressure from his colleagues on management.

Khumalo was suspended by Pillay after he tweeted about the EFF's elective conference, which eNCA had decided it would not cover in solidarity with Daily Maverick, which was banned by the party.

Suspension is lifted and Kanthan Pillay is gone. Rats are delighted. What a journey ????????????-- KhayelihleKhumalo (@KhayaJames) December 20, 2019

Earlier, on Friday a group of eNCA journalists took a stand for "independent journalism", following allegations of editorial interference and censorship by Pillay.

The group - which includes anchors Xoli Mngambi, Jane Dutton, Thembekile Mrototo and Dan Moyane, as well as journalists Khumalo, Heidi Giokos and Masego Rahlaga - met eNCA management to make "it clear we stand for independent journalism".

Several took to Twitter after the meeting to make their stance known - that they "won't allow the integrity of our news profession to be made a mockery of".

After recent disturbing events, we've met with eNCA management and made it clear we stand for independent journalism. We'll protect the sanctity of our credibility. We won't allow the integrity of our news profession to be made a mockery of. #CredibilityFirst #NoToCensorship pic.twitter.com/Is1tbbYmGQ-- Shahan Ramkissoon (@ShahanR) December 20, 2019

Maseko responded to Pillay's post in a series of tweets in which he spoke of editorial interference and censorship by the news director.

The reporter claimed Pillay "instructed" that claims by ANC parliamentarian Bongani Bongo against Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan be removed from a news insert.

Do you want me to speak about how you instructed that @MYANC MP Bongani Bhongo be sensored by removing all the allegations he made at Minister Pravin Gordhan? What happened to a simple journalism principle of two sides to a story? Getting both parties to answer for themselves https://t.co/qnKkpnGoX4-- #TheLordOfTheMedia (@samkelemaseko) December 18, 2019

Maseko also wrote about his abrupt departure from eNCA's offices, saying Pillay had him thrown out "like a dog who had stolen something".

Do want me to speak about how you threw me out of the @eNCA building like a dog who had stolen something....... How you came to my desk and said I should pack my shit and follow you to HR. You are heartless and unethical. Denying some a chance to serve a notice period https://t.co/qnKkpnGoX4-- #TheLordOfTheMedia (@samkelemaseko) December 18, 2019

On Thursday, Pillay issued an apology to Maseko and the SABC for his tweet and his comment.

"The action I took in haste and without thinking, which now places my employer, my colleagues, my family and my friends in a most embarrassing position," he wrote in his message to eNCA staff.

While Pillay said he had been drawn into a "Twitter war", the sequence of events shows that he fired the first salvo.

On Friday, responding to Pillay's apology, Maseko said: "I note and reject Mr Kanthan Pillay's apology. We can no longer accept apologies for racial and corporate abuse. It would be inhumane of me to accept an apology while another black child still faces the abuse of power by the same man."

I note and reject Mr Kanthan Pillay's apology. We can no longer accept apologies for racial and corporate abuse. It would be inhumane of me to accept an apology while another black child still faces the abuse of power by the same man. #JusticeforKhayakhumalo pic.twitter.com/Y3I4ipM1hU-- #TheLordOfTheMedia (@samkelemaseko) December 20, 2019

At the same time, political analyst Lukhona Mnguni has penned an open letter to eNCA and editor-in-chief Jeremy Maggs, noting that he will no longer be available to the channel until Pillay is removed.

Television industry journalist Thinus Ferreira tweeted that journalists had written to Maggs noting that the credibility of both the channel and themselves as individuals has been damaged.

In a letter to @eNCA (@DStv 403) editor Jeremy Maggs @maggsonmedia journalists say their/eNCA credibility and reputation has been damaged:"Very distressing that #KanthanPillay has been allowed to come into this newsroom & make decisions that raise doubt about our independence."-- TVwithThinus (@TVwithThinus) December 20, 2019

Source: News24

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