Four of the SABC journalists who were suspended or faced disciplinary hearings were fired on Monday, possibly because they approached the labour court, their lawyer said.
“We will argue [in the court] on Thursday that the reason for them being dismissed is that they pursued their rights in terms of the labour court. It is only speculation at this time, [however] I think it is a fair assumption to be made,” Anton van der Bijl, the labour attorney for Solidarity, who is representing the four journalists, said.
The four are Foeta Krige, Suna Venter, Krivani Pillay and Jacques Steenkamp.
Van der Bijl confirmed that other journalists who were suspended or faced charges at the broadcaster but were not represented by Solidarity were not part of the application to the labour court. No action was apparently taken against them on Monday.
He said he would tell the labour court that the dismissals be set aside because the decisions were “based on unlawful policy”.
“The policy [of the SABC to not broadcast footage of violent protests] is subject to the decision of the constitutional court , the high court and [communications regulator] Icasa. We’ll ask that … [the sanctions] cannot proceed because the policy has not had an opportunity to be scrutinised by the court.”
Solidarity said in an earlier statement that it “wants to have the suspension and disciplinary action against several SABC journalists set aside pending the adjudication by the constitutional court of the lawfulness of the SABC’s censorship instructions”.
“This comes after the SABC still failed to withdraw the charges against the journalists for their refusal to apply censorship. In a recent letter to the suspended and disciplined journalists, the SABC also accused them of having allegedly committed ‘further misbehaviour’ by informing the media of their suspensions and their continued refusal to comply with the SABC’s instructions.”
Solidarity CEO Dirk Hermann said: “We … believe that the individuals concerned have a very strong case against the SABC for the very reason that the charges laid against them by their employer are inconsistent with the constitution.”
Economics editor Thandeka Gqubule, Krige and Venter were previously served with suspension letters after they disagreed with an instruction during a diary conference not to cover the Right2Know Campaign’s protest against censorship at the SABC.
That protest was in response to SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s decision to stop airing footage of the destruction of property during protests. This caused outrage from civil society and media organisations.
Following this, the SABC charged three other journalists for “liaising with the media” without authorisation from their bosses.
The three — Busisiwe Ntuli, Pillay and Steenkamp — wrote a letter to Motsoeneng last weekend, expressing their dissatisfaction with how operations had been managed at the SABC over the last few weeks.
Journalists Lukhanyo Calata and Vuyo Mvoko have also been either charged or suspended by the broadcaster.
Icasa ruled last week that the SABC had to withdraw its resolution to ban the broadcasting of violent protests.
Motsoeneng told media at a briefing after the ruling that no one could tell the SABC what to do. The broadcaster is now reportedly approaching the courts to have Icasa’s decision reviewed.