Hlaudi wavers in SABC row
Picketing journalists cry freedom
CONTROVERSIAL SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng has signalled he will review the facts around the suspension of journalists and censorship concerns, after hundreds of media and trade union representatives picketed in three city centres, including in driving rain and cold in Cape Town.
Dressed in black and holding aloft placards bearing the message “Not in Our Name”, reporters picketed outside the SABC building in Sea Point yesterday morning, drawing sustained hooting from motorists. Simultaneous protests were held in Johannesburg and Durban as journalists stood in solidarity with their suspended SABC colleagues in scenes reminiscent of press freedom protests before democracy.
Yesterday afternoon Motsoeneng promised to review the situation and report back on Monday.
This followed a meeting with the SABC head yesterday, who at first reportedly said he could not address protesters in Johannesburg because he was flying to Durban to attend the Durban July today. He later met a delegation including the New Trade Union federation, the Media Workers Association of South Africa (Mwasa), the SOS Coalition, representatives of Primedia and Independent Media, and the Right2Know Campaign.
They demanded Motsoeneng review the suspension and intimidation of journalists at the SABC, and called on the national broadcaster to withdraw revised and adopted 2016 editorial policies, which included a blanket ban on protests.
Outside the SABC headquarters in Auckland Park, protesters taped their mouths shut and wore T-shirts that proclaimed “Don’t touch me on my studio” and “Not in my name”.
Former Cosatu boss Zwelinzima Vavi removed the tape from his mouth to label the crisis at the SABC a “tragedy”. He described Motsoeneng as the “tsar” of the public broadcaster, who was “terrorising professionals” within the organisation and making them “look the other way when the truth confronted them”.
Last week Thandeka Gqubule, Radio Sonder Grense executive editor Foeta Krige and senior journalist Suna Venter were suspended after defying Motsoeneng’s orders not to cover a recent anti-censorship protest outside the SABC’s Auckland Park headquarters.
Three colleagues, Special Assignment executive producer Busisiwe Ntuli, SAfm current affairs executive producer Krivani Pillay and senior investigative journalist Jacques Steenkamp were charged after publicly raising their concerns about censorship.
Karima Brown, Independent Media group executive editor, carried a placard that read #NoToCensorship and told protesters the SABC would not be allowed to be used as a pawn of the governing party.
It also emerged that Mwasa members were held hostage inside the locked SABC building. “Media workers that are not being allowed to exercise their right to associate is an unprecedented violation of workers’ rights,” said Sekoetlane Phamodi, of SOS.
Brown told the picketers she had been receiving messages from employees inside the building who had been forbidden to join the picket.
Phamodi wore a gas mask to represent how censorship of news and current affairs in the SABC was “suffocating” editorial staff as well as information freedom for the 12 million households with TVs who rely almost exclusively on the SABC. Motsoeneng, he remarked, was an antidemocratic demagogue, the “likes of which we’ve not seen for many years”.
A disciplinary hearing for Ntuli, Pillay and Steenkamp, set to be held yesterday, was postponed to next week. Dirk Du Plessis of Solidarity, whose legal teams are representing the six journalists, termed the delay a “victory”.
In Cape Town, SABC journalist Lukhanyo Calata, son of slain anti-apartheid activist Fort Calata, said he still had faith the SABC could become a “leader in society” despite the present turmoil.
He made news on Monday when he released a statement in which he criticised the “disturbing direction being taken by my employers”. “The decisions taken recently by the SABC cannot be described in any other way but being a curbing of media freedom. A freedom to report ethically, truthfully and
Calata was three years old in 1985 when his father was abducted and killed by apartheid police, with Sicelo Mhlauli, Matthew Goniwe and Sparrow Mkhonto.
They became known as the Cradock Four.
“There is always a chance for the situation to turn around,” Calata said at yesterday’s picket, adding there were a large number of “good and ethical people” at the public broadcaster who wanted to cover news fairly.
Calata, who issued the statement while on leave, said he had received no official response from the SABC, and was expecting to return to work on Monday “as usual”.
Khaya Xintolo, Western Cape co- ordinator of the Right2Know Campaign, said journalists at the SABC were not free if they were told what to cover.
“We are here to show our solidarity. We feel it is the right of journalists to choose what to cover; they must have freedom bias,” read the of expression.”
Cape Argus editor Gasant Abarder said he attended the picket in solidarity with colleagues at the SABC who were being told to “turn their cameras away from the news”.
“The best thing was when it started raining we stood steadfast,” he said.
“People are singing the national anthem, it is quite poignant.”
Weekend Argus editor Chiara Carter said the SABC as a public broadcaster belonged to South Africa’s people, and its staff were duty-bound to report the news, good and bad.
Censorship flew in the face of the country’s hard- won democracy.
Shouting the slogan “Hlaudi Must Go”, journalists from the major media houses across Durban joined the protest where Right To Know KZN coordinator Thabane Miya welcomed the support, saying they would “remain resolute and continue to protest and march until SABC does something about the situation”. – Additional reporting by Guinevere Shapiro
Journalists and activists refuse to leave the picket line outside the SABC offices in Sea Point yesterday morning, despite the driving rain.
A multi-tier cake brought a smile to patient Charlbi Jaftha, 9, of Carnarvon as Red Cross Children’s Hospital marked its 60th anniversary. The hospital, today a far cry from its humble beginnings, opened its doors in 1956 as a living memorial to South African soldiers who fought in World War II and donated two days’ pay towards the facility. The birthday cake was presented to patients, parents and staff.