Hope for sacked SABC jour­nal­ists

Trade union con­fi­dent judge will de­liver a vic­tory for free­dom of speech at pub­lic broad­caster

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - NONI MOKATI

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

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