In what has been described as Black Friday, throngs of media workers were expected to picket outside the SABC offices in Joburg and Cape Town on Friday morning in solidarity with journalists suspended for standing against a censorship policy that has been likened to apartheid-era tendencies.
This as journalists suspended by the public broadcaster for speaking out against censorship were expected to appear before a disciplinary hearing on Friday.
Special Assignment executive producer Busisiwe Ntuli, SAfm current affairs executive producer Krivani Pillay and senior investigative journalist Jacques Steenkamp were on Thursday slapped with charges pertaining to illegal conduct after raising their concerns about censorship in a letter to chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng, who is widely viewed as President Jacob Zuma’s ally.
In their letter they described how the draconian censorship policy had turned the newsroom into a hub of “derision and despair” and how it had solicited negative sentiments from the public.
Their sanction followed the suspension of another three editorial staff: economics editor Thandeka Gqubule, Radio Sonder Grense executive editor Foeta Krige and senior journalist Suna Venter. The three were suspended after defying Motsoeneng’s orders not to cover a recent anti-censorship protest outside the SABC’s Auckland Park headquarters.
The journalists, including parliamentary reporter Lukhanyo Calata, were expected to appear before the disciplinary hearing on Friday.
Calata had publicly rebuked Motsoeneng’s leadership, saying decisions by his bosses bordered on censorship.
The ongoing issues at the SABC have sparked a national outrage, with the Save Our SABC Coalition planning to picket outside the SABC studios in Sea Point from 8am and in Joburg from 9am on Friday.
The picketers, wearing black, were to hold a vigil for the journalists before embarking on a silent march to Constitution Hill, where civil-society partners and SABC workers were to address them.
The demands are that all the suspended journalists be reinstated immediately and the broadcaster’s “illegally revised” editorial policies should be scrapped.
Motsoeneng’s alleged iron-fist rule has caught the attention of unions, civil-society movements and political parties, who have been calling on him to step down for tampering with media freedom.
Cape Town Press Club chairman Brent Meersman said the canning of current affairs shows such as The Editors, the reading of newspaper headlines on radio, summary suspensions of journalists and the non-airing of violent protests on TV “is all reminiscent of a past we cannot afford nor could possibly wish to return to”.
SABC journalists are said to be working under an atmosphere of fear. Acting group chief executive Jimi Matthews resigned on Monday, saying what was happening at the public broadcaster was wrong.
The Right2Know campaign’s media freedom organiser, Micah Reddy, said the SABC had started deteriorating a long time ago.
He cited Motsoeneng’s interference in the editorial policy as one of the issues that had plunged the SABC into a downward spiral.
“Over the past couple of years there have been concerted plans to capture the SABC and turn it into a pliant organisation,” he said, adding that Matthews’s resignation was a “huge blow to Hlaudi and his cabal”.
ANC national spokesman Zizi Kodwa said the party welcomed Communications Minister Faith Muthambi’s intervention in the shenanigans at the SABC.
This week, Muthambi said Matthews’s resignation was suspect.
SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago did not respond to questions sent to him yesterday.
On Tuesday, Motsoeneng lashed out at detractors who he said wanted to destabilise the public broadcaster, and squashed rumours of an internal revolt and imploding crisis in the organisation.
He added that his employees were “excited and happy” about his leadership.
But SABC journalists who spoke to The Star told of how Motsoeneng had threatened them, saying they must obey orders or leave.
Reporting by LUYOLO MKENTANE
[Source: The Star]