SABC Phathiswa Magopeni

The South African Broadcasting Corporation building in Sea Point, Cape Town. Photo: Zaian via Wikimedia Commons

SABC interference: “Spectre of the ANC hovered over the newsroom”

Even though the SABC interference enquiry could find no clear link proving the ANC influenced the public broadcaster’s editorial decisions.

SABC Phathiswa Magopeni

The South African Broadcasting Corporation building in Sea Point, Cape Town. Photo: Zaian via Wikimedia Commons

The commission of inquiry into political interference in editorial decisions at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) could find no clear line between Luthuli House and the SABC but said its influence could still be felt throughout the newsroom.

Dr. Joe Thloloe, chairperson of the Press Council commission of investigation into editorial interference at the SABC said that any doubt about the relationship between the SABC and ANC leadership was erased by Faith Muthambi and Hlaudi Motsoeneng traveling to Durban in 2018 to show support for then-President Jacob Zuma when he appeared in court.

“We found there was no direct line between the decisions in Lethuli House and the decision in the newsroom. We couldn’t trace that line, but the spectre of the ANC hovered over the whole newsroom,” he revealed at the announcement of the report on the commissions’ investigation.

According to Thloloe, the committee made a number of assumptions going into the investigation and subsequent report.

The main assumptions were that every person has the right to feel fulfilled and inspired by the work that they do, that they can do that work without fear or favour, and finally that any person or institution has the right to try and influence coverage at the SABC but the ultimate decision on what to cover rests with the editorial staff.

“The commission found that the SABC suffered from the capricious use of authority and power to terrorise staff and to deflect the corporation from its mandate and its policies,” he revealed.

“We found an organisation crippled by pain, anger, and fear. By frustration, anxiety, and apathy. By inattentiveness, detachment, and helplessness.”

SABC interference report recommendations

In order to help amend this situation, the committee recommended the following actions:

  • The group executive of news should be designated as the chair of the editorial policies and ethics committee of the group executive
  • He or she should chair the committee that includes all the group executives of information, including radio, television, sport, education, etc
  • This committee would be the highest point of upward referral for editorial line managers
  • It would uphold the editorial policies and the highest editorial and ethical standards
  • The group executive for news will report to the Group CEO
  • The creation of a three-person news and current affairs advisory committee
  • This committee would do the same work that the BBC’s editorial policy team
  • This committee would publicise monthly reports on the issues they handled and provide quarterly and annual reports to the SABC board
  • All journalists from the most junior to the most senior should attend at least one workshop per year on editorial ethics and policies at the SABC

Thloloe is confident these measures will help prevent a situation similar to the one the SABC has been experiencing over the last number of years.

Witchhunt will not heal the organisation

The second set of findings relates to human resources in the newsroom, irregular appointments, and freelance contracts.

The commission found that a witchhunt against those who are found culpable in the report will not heal the organisation and would do nothing but further divide an already fractured institution.

“In as much as the organisation needs healing from the scourge of the so-called enforcers, it needs to attend to team building where members focus on the common good,” Thloloe said.

This process would include deep conversations among managers and staff. During which the lingering frustration, pain, and anger can be vented and resolved.

The committee also recommended that Motsoeneng’s instructions to human resources to institute disciplinary proceedings against employees or to dismiss, promote, or appoint others must be reviewed.

Human resources have been instructed to conduct an audit of the appointments, promotions, or sideways shifts of senior news management, including Nothando Maseko, Sebolelo Ditlhakanyane and Nyana Molete.