Hlaudi wa­vers in SABC row

Pick­et­ing jour­nal­ists cry free­dom

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - SHEREE BEGA, JAN CRONJE and TANYA WATERWORTH

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

with­out state­ment.

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.

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