/ 22 October 2006

SABC inquiry into Zikalala, Perlman ‘has no basis’

South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) chief executive Dali Mpofu’s inquiry into two of his top staff has no basis in the ”blacklisting” report, said the opposition Democratic Alliance on Sunday.

News and current affairs chief Snuki Zikalala and SAfm presenter John Perlman were both asked to give written explanations of allegations against them in the report, wrote Mpofu in City Press.

Mpofu said that after the Sisulu commission report was handed to him, he met both Zikalala and Perlman. ”I told them the commission and the evidence broadly contained a ‘case to answer’ for each of them,” said Mpofu.

He asked both to give him written statements in response to their apparent wrongdoing. Both have done so.

City Press reported that Mpofu will decide within two weeks whether a case exists against the two.

”SABC CEO Dali Mpofu today reveals in City Press that ‘second stage’ disciplinary proceedings are to be instituted against … Zikalala and … Perlman ‘because the commission and the evidence had established enough of a prima facie case’ against them,” said MP Dene Smuts, the DA’s spokesperson on communications.

”But the Zwelakhe Sisulu-Gilbert Marcus commission into allegations of blacklisting did no such thing in respect of John Perlman.”

Smuts said the SABC should act against Zikalala but not against Perlman.

”The commission has provided enough findings, based only on undisputed cases, which show that Zikalala acts arbitrarily, on reasons that are inconsistent and unconvincing and which unacceptably narrow the range of democratic views available to South Africans, to give the SABC a basis for dispensing with his services.”

She said the SABC board has already prejudged any case against Zikalala by expressing its full confidence in him.

”Perlman has done his professional duty and may go down for it; Zikalala has failed to uphold the standards required by the law and the corporation’s codes and policies, but enjoys ‘confidence’,” she said.

Mpofu said Perlman was accused of bringing the SABC into disrepute by contradicting its official spokesperson on air about the existence of blacklisting practices without exhausting internal procedures. Zikalala was accused of ordering the blacklisting of certain political analysts.

Smuts called Mpofu’s article in City Press misleading.

She quoted the inquiry report as saying: ”We have found that the SABC media statement [denying blacklisting] did not accurately reflect the position or provide reasons that would justify the exercise of SABC power in this regard. We have found that several persons were improperly excluded as commentators or analysts.

”Mr Perlman’s position, therefore, was in conformity with the factual situation.”

‘Storm in a teacup’

In his article, Mpofu refers to the public debate over the blacklist issue as ”a storm in a teacup” and calls it ”blood-lust of the right-wing lobby and its fellow travellers in the mass media”.

Mpofu wrote that the decision not to publish the report was not easy to make, as the commissioners’ recommendations, the public interest and the rights of the accused staff had to be taken into account.

Allegations in the report were not tested and had not been made under oath.

”With our quality of media, this problematic material would feed into a frenzy which would make it virtually impossible to take any corrective or disciplinary action in the second stage, which had become necessary on the findings or to conduct any decent process,” said Mpofu.

”This battle is not about one or other commentator or a ‘blacklist’ or Zikalala. It is about wresting control of the SABC, of the hearts and minds and ultimately, of the country, from us barbarians.

”Well, folks, it is over for good. The savage natives are in charge, and democratically so.

”The bottom line is that there is no blacklist at the SABC and there is most certainly no crisis.”

The report

The SABC had violated the recommendations of the commission by releasing only a sanitised summary of its findings, the Mail & Guardian reported earlier this month.

The M&G Online published the full commission report, whereafter the SABC went to court to obtain an interdict against the website, but failed to do so.

The commission’s 78-page report is damning. It confirms the existence of an arbitrary blacklist of outside commentators who should not be consulted and says there is a climate of fear in the broadcaster’s newsrooms. It is scathing about the arbitrary decision-making, the iron-fist rule and the lack of editorial knowledge of Zikalala.

The report says Zikalala ”appears to intervene at a micro-level inappropriate to his level of management … in a seemingly ad hoc and inconsistent manner … and then belatedly attempted to develop policy guidelines in regard to these practices.

The effect of this management style is that rather than voluntary [and presumably occasional] ‘upward referral’ as outlined in the editorial policies, there is a downward micro-management which can only impact negatively on morale, initiative and an appropriate sense of ownership [by journalists].”

”The board, ” recommends the report, ”should take close cognisance of the concerns about the particular management style of Dr Zikalala as outlined in this report, particularly regarding problems of communication and the inappropriately narrow interpretation of the SABC’s mandate.”

Read in conjunction with the evidence of Zikalala’s exclusion of commentators, it is clear that urgent action is recommended.

On the net

The original blacklisting report (PDF)