SABC can’t ‘turn blind eye’ to Perlman

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) could not simply ”turn a blind eye” to the alleged transgressions of its AM Live radio anchor John Perlman, the broadcaster’s CEO, Dali Mpofu, told MPs on Monday.

Briefing members of Parliament’s communications portfolio committee on the findings of a commission into so-called blacklisting by the SABC of certain commentators and analysts, he confirmed Perlman would face a disciplinary inquiry.

Perlman stands accused of bringing the SABC into disrepute through his contradicting of the broadcaster’s spokesperson, Kaizer Kganyago, during a live on-air discussion on the blacklisting issue.

Earlier this year, Mpofu appointed a commission — comprising former SABC head Zwelakhe Sisulu and advocate Gilbert Marcus SC — to investigate blacklisting complaints. It found the broadcaster had blacklisted certain commentators, albeit not officially.

It also found Perlman was right when he stated during the live broadcast that the blacklisting was happening in practice ”by instruction”.

Mpofu said no organisation with a disciplinary code could allow an employee to make such a statement without calling for an investigation into the matter.

The SABC has 18 radio stations and four television channels, with thousands of employees, and if this is allowed it would open up a ”free for all”.

”The complaint against Perlman is simply what is commonly known as bringing an organisation into disrepute. You have to accept … that the issue does not turn around the veracity or otherwise of the statement made,” he said, responding to a question.

It was a simple issue, and ”quite frankly, even if he’s found to have breached this or that rule at a technical level … it’s not like a mass murder, or anything of that sort.

”As a CEO, I can’t be seen to be turning a blind eye to alleged transgression. I’m not saying he’s guilty or innocent or whatever. I’m saying let somebody else decide that question.”

Mpofu said the complaint against Perlman had been laid ”even before the commission came into being”.

SABC news head Snuki Zikalala is also facing a disciplinary inquiry arising out of the blacklisting report.

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.

It was reported that 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.

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