Hope for sacked SABC journalists
Trade union confident judge will deliver a victory for freedom of speech at public broadcaster
TRADE union Solidarity is confident it has “done enough” to persuade the court to reinstate four of its members dismissed by the SABC.
Solidarity chief executive Dirk Hermann said: “We believe we’ve done enough to convince the court to reinstate our members. All these journalists want to do is what they love and that is to inform the public.”
He was speaking shortly after Labour Court Judge Robert la Grange adjourned for the day yesterday following a lengthy hearing over the public broadcaster’s decision to dismiss eight journalists early this month.
The journalists were charged with contravening their employment contracts after they spoke up on internal editorial policies at the state broadcaster, including chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s ban on showing images of vandalised state property during service delivery protests.
Solidarity argued the SABC had acted in an “extraordinary, cynical and patently unlawful manner” and had abused the journalists’ constitutional rights.
The union pointed out that the SABC could not justify the sackings as lawful when the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) had declared the policy on protests as unlawful and a violation of the Broadcasting Act and the constitution.
Solidarity lawyer Steven Budlender told Judge La Grange the SABC’s notion that journalists knew they were not allowed to speak to the media or criticise the organisation’s policies in the manner they did, interfered with their right to freedom of speech.
The four journalists represented by Solidarity are Foeta Krige, Suna Venter, Krivani Pillay and Jacques Steenkamp.
Other journalists have sought legal counsel from their unions.
Budlender said the union wanted its members to be reinstated and for any disciplinary procedures against them to be revoked.
The union also wanted the SABC to establish who was responsible for ordering the dismissals.
Themba Skosana, representing the SABC, said the public broadcaster’s decision dealt with the journalists speaking to the media.
Meanwhile, yesterday the it emerged journalists had received email notifications from the broadcaster informing them their medical aids had been cancelled.
Hermann said this was troubling because it showed the SABC instilled a culture of fear in journalists.
“I spoke to some of the journalists and one of them said they didn’t sleep at night because they thought of their families and their well-being,” he said.
He said a victory for Solidarity in the Labour Court would not only benefit journalists, but all South Africans.
Judgement has been reserved.
* A handful of Stellenbosch University students braved the cold weather yesterday to protest on the campus in support of the eight SABC journalists.
The students, most of whom were from the journalism department, wore black tape across their mouths.
Among the students was Delaine Krige, daughter of suspended journalist Krige, who warned against what she called hostage-taking at the SABC.
“My dad and his colleagues have been held hostage in their own living room for a long, long time, forced at gunpoint to turn on family and friends.
“They are forced to bind each other’s hands, to tape each other’s mouths, while quietly begging each other’s forgiveness,” she said. Krige said. Asked why her father had continued working at the SABC for 24 years, she said her father told her to “never confuse the SABC with the person in charge”.
“The SABC is not Hlaudi Motsoeneng and the SABC is not any one individual.”
Journalism department chairwoman Professor Lizette Rabe said the state capture of the SABC to become a state broadcaster instead of the public broadcaster it was supposed to be, meant citizens got a biased news feed instead of a plurality of voices and views.
“Indeed, the current situation means the upcoming elections can also not be declared free and fair if current policies and practices persist,” Rabe said.
The protesters were calling for the scrapping of the illegal and immoral editorial policies at the SABC, the immediate reinstatement of all suspended journalists, competent executives to lead the SABC and for journalists to be left to do what members of the Fourth Estate were supposed to do. – Additional reporting by Noloyiso Mtembu
Solidarity chief Dirk Hermann