The SABC on Sunday refused to confirm the veracity of a union report that the disciplinary hearings of suspended news journalists have been suspended — some indefinitely.
“We do not comment on employer-employee issues in the public space. We are not going to make an exception on this one,” said SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago.
On Sunday, trade union, Solidarity, issued a statement in which it reported that the SABC had postponed indefinitely the hearings of Thandeka Gqubule, Foeta Krige and Suna Venter, which were due to start on Monday.
“The hearings of the other three employees, Busisiwe Ntuli, Jacques Steenkamp and Krivani Pillay, was due to take place on Friday, but this hearing, too, was postponed,” said Solidarity chief executive Dirk Hermann.
The series of suspensions occurred following SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s decision, announced in May, to no longer show the destruction of property during protests. He argued that showing such footage would encourage others to do the same.
The eight suspended journalists raised concerns about this apparent censorship at various time, seeing them served with disciplinary letters.
Acting SABC CEO Jimi Matthews also resigned at the end of June, citing a climate of censorship Motsoeneng had fostered, as well as political pandering.
Civil society protests about the matter have also since taken place and communications regulator Icasa is due to announce the findings of public hearings into the matter shortly.
On Sunday, Hermann said that the union was not satisfied with only postponements of the hearings. “The disciplinary process must be abolished in its entirety,” he said.
Solidarity would approach the constitutional court in the coming week in connection with the allegations of censorship at the national broadcaster, as well as apply for an interdict at the labour court against the SABC’s disciplinary processes.
Along with the six journalists represented by Solidarity, Lukhanyo Calata and Vuyo Mvoko have also been suspended.
“The censorship instruction is clearly unlawful. It is in direct violation of the principles of freedom of speech and the public’s right to know.
“The unlawfulness of the instruction makes the entire suspension unlawful.”
On Saturday night, the eight suspended SABC journalists received the Nat Nakasa award for demonstrating exceptional integrity and courage in upholding their commitment to ethical journalism and freedom of expression.
“The SABC, a national asset, has been on a downward spiral. Editorial independence is trampled on and eccentric management orders are thrown around in a frenzy of power.”
“These eight refuse to be silent,” read a statement issued by the awards body.
Those present at the Johannesburg ceremony accepted their awards in tears and carrying white balloons.
Of those suspended, Gqubule serves as an economics editor, Calata as a parliamentary correspondent, Mvoko as a specialist presenter and Ntuli a Special Assignment executive producer.
Steenkamp is an investigative journalist, while Pillay is an executive producer for current affairs at SAfm. Venter is an RSG senior journalist and Krige, an executive producer at the same radio station.
The political tide appears to have begun to turn against the SABC following a media briefing by the ANC this week in which it suggested that the broadcaster was in contravention of the constitution as well as ANC policy.
“If you put a blanket ban on the coverage and footage of what is already burning, you are in conflict with the constitution and you are in conflict with what we have stood for of allowing South Africans to watch what they want to watch and make up their own minds, ” ANC NEC subcommittee on communications chairman Jackson Mthembu said on Tuesday at a press briefing on media freedom.
He also criticised management at the SABC as “lacking”.
“That is why we keep moving from one crisis to another,” he added.
He condemned reports that the broadcaster might have favoured certain political parties.
“If the SABC has disadvantaged other [political] parties to the benefit of the ANC, as the ANC we are saying let there be an inquiry,” said Mthembu at the time.
Following his resignation, Matthews claimed coverage of the Economic Freedom Fighters had been sidelined.
On Friday, a group of prominent foundations representing “illustrious South Africans” including Desmond and Leah Tutu, Chief Albert Luthuli and Thabo Mbeki among others, called for a judicial commission of inquiry into the SABC controversy.