Problems at the SABC extend beyond the policy not to broadcast footage of violent protests, one of the broadcaster’s axed journalists said on Thursday.
“The protest policy is only a sliver of the slew of policies and draconian anti-journalistic practices,” Thandeka Gqubule told reporters after the labour court postponed the case of her four dismissed colleagues.
“You can withdraw the protest policy, but still have an environment that is not conducive to the practice of ethical journalism in the SABC.
“We don’t see how this striking down of the policy alone can solve the problems of the corrosive environment and the other forms of censorship that continue to prevail.”
She said the SABC had to live up to the mandate that was drafted for it in the run-up to the 1994 elections.
“A free, balanced and fair SABC was a precondition for the first democratic elections. It needs to be a public institution that promotes universal access to the airwaves. That is what we are fighting for and that is what we will not yield. We will not flinch. We are going forward with the struggle.”
Gqubule and her axed colleague, Busisiwe Ntuli, were in court to support Foeta Krige, Suna Venter, Krivani Pillay and Jacques Steenkamp. The four wanted the court to set aside their dismissals and revoke their disciplinary processes. Trade union Solidarity was representing them.
The matter was postponed to 12:30pm on Friday to allow the SABC to file papers.
Seven SABC reporters, including Lukhanyo Calata, were fired this week. Freelance journalist Vuyo Mvoko’s contract was terminated.
All eight have applied for direct access to the constitutional court.
The Helen Suzman Foundation and the broadcaster reached an agreement on Wednesday, which saw the high court in Pretoria interdicting the broadcaster from enacting its policy.
Communications regulator Icasa ruled on 11 July that the SABC had to withdraw its resolution, announced in May, to ban showing footage of violent protests.
Chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng initially said, after the ruling, that no one could tell the SABC what to do and that they would challenge Icasa’s decision in court. However, in a surprise U-turn, Icasa said on Wednesday afternoon that the SABC had agreed to comply with its decision.
Ntuli said they were encouraged by Wednesday’s high court interdict. They wanted the constitutional court to ensure freedom of expression was upheld.
“Today it may be a protest policy that is being debated. Tomorrow it may be something else. We want none of this to happen ever again, and the constitutional court will pronounce on that.”
The fundamental problem was the environment at the SABC that allowed such things to happen.
“They have happened before and will definitely continue to happen going forward. We understand that the SABC is a huge institution. It is contested space, and a very powerful tool for any political party,” Ntuli said.
“We are not saying anything about any political party, but we are saying people come with their agendas and want to impose those agendas on us. We are professionals, we are not there by mistake.”
A crowd-funding campaign for the sacked journalists had reached more than R360 000 late on Thursday morning.
Gqubule said the campaign had moved her to tears.
“We are so touched by the gestures of the public and fellow journalists who are actually paying our salaries.”