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Axed SABC journos ‘surprised and devastated’

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The SABC caught its journalists unawares when it asked them to respond to their alleged misconduct, only to fire them.

Special Assignment’s Busisiwe Ntuli and political journalist Lukhanyo Calata were busy preparing a response, which the SABC wanted by July 29 when they were summoned to the office on Tuesday to collect their letters of termination of service.

This was revealed by the Broadcast, Electronic Media and Allied Workers Union’s (Bemawu) Hannes du Buisson, who said the SABC’s actions took them by surprise and left the journalists devastated, as no one could have predicted the move the SABC would take.

This was also because there had been no disciplinary committee and nowhere in the communications between the parties was there a hint that a dismissal was imminent.

“This is grossly unfair and we will ask the Labour Court to overturn that decision,” Du Buisson said on Tuesday.

However, SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago said there was no wrongdoing on their side as they had followed all processes that they needed to follow.

“If they think there is something wrong, they know what to do. We understand that they have already taken steps to do so, and we will explain ourselves there. We won’t explain ourselves in the media. We won’t go out there and play in the gallery,” he said, reiterating that the matters were “employer and employee issues and we don’t discuss them in a public space”.

In another development in the saga, SABC2 news anchor Ivor Price, in a show of solidarity, has resigned from the public broadcaster, citing a hostile environment for journalists.

Ntuli, Calata and economics editor Thandeka Gqubule were the latest to be sacked in the aftermath of what is believed to stem from the SABC’s editorial policy to ban the broadcasting of violent protests that were accompanied by people destroying public property.

Senior journalists Jacques Steenkamp and Suna Venter, SAfm current affairs executive producer Krivani Pillay and Radio Sonder Grense executive producer Foeta Krige were fired on Monday.

Another senior journalist, Vuyo Mvoko, had not received any indication that his contract had been terminated. He had been issued with a letter as to why he shouldn’t be suspended, but he questioned the basis of the SABC’s grievance. He had not received a response on Tuesday night.

The eight journalists, referred to on social media as the #SABC8, had written a letter to the SABC a few weeks ago questioning the ban on showing the destruction of property during protests. A suspension immediately followed.

Du Buisson, whose union represents Calata and Ntuli, said the journalists were actually suspended and later fired, because the SABC accused them of leaking that letter to the media. He said that although Calata and Ntuli did not leak the letter, they were summoned to a disciplinary hearing in less than 24 hours. But it was postponed due to the fact that it was such short notice. A date was not set for a follow-up hearing, he said.

Du Buisson said the SABC later asked Calata and Ntuli to respond to accusations of speaking to the media about that letter and also questioning the SABC’s policy. The deadline was July 29.

“We asked them at the time whether they were going to bypass the disciplinary hearing or what, and they later said they had no intention to haul them before the disciplinary committee. They both got calls from human resources today to collect dismissal letters, when they were still gearing up for the 29th,” he said.

The firing of the journalists – the latest example of the SABC’s heavy-handed management style – has been widely criticised. Sam Mkokeli of the SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) said there was a dictatorship at the SABC, which was clear in how the public broadcaster was flouting “all manner of laws” by dismissing journalists willy-nilly.

Mkokeli, chairman of the media freedom committee at Sanef, said the move was a premeditated decision that had been based on the public broadcaster’s decision not to cover violent protests.

Trade union Solidarity said it would approach the Labour Court on Thursday in a bid to set aside the dismissals.

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