SABC reporters 'not assigned on basis of politics'

South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) reporters are not assigned to stories on the basis of their political allegiance, the national broadcaster said on Monday.

It was reacting, in a statement, to reports that journalists have either been pulled from stories or demoted as a result of their support for Jacob Zuma.

“The SABC does not appoint or assign journalists on the basis of their political activism; it does so on the basis of their ability to properly cover the story so that our audiences gain a proper understanding of issues at hand,” it said.

“As stipulated in the editorial code, we expect that it is the duty of every member of the news staff to uphold the highest professional and ethical standards.”

The SABC acknowledged that, as members of society, media workers will have their own political opinions.

“We specifically employ individuals who are critically engaged with the way in which our society operates and such individuals are more likely to hold strong political opinions—and it is their right.

“However, should their political opinions colour their coverage to the extent that their reports no longer adhere to the provisions of accuracy, fairness, impartiality and balance contained in the SABC’s editorial code, corrective action will be taken.”

The SABC believes it unacceptable for staff who have problems with legitimate editorial decisions to “suddenly declare themselves as activists” and claim they are being sidelined as a result.

It noted that there have been reports about three journalists in the past week—Mpho Tsedu, Mzwandile Mbeje and Tshepo Ikaneng.

The SABC said “corrective action” has been taken against Tsedu after he was found to be “in serious breach” of his contract by failing to report for duty for a week after refusing to make changes to a story on the Ghanaian presidential elections.

It said Mbeje is a junior general reporter, needing the mentoring of a more seasoned journalist, and who has been used to cover Zuma on an ad-hoc basis with a number of other individuals. He is presently with Zuma in Tanzania.

The SABC said there is also “nothing sinister” in the reassignment of Ikaneng from the Tanzanian trip.

“It is part of the normal reprioritisation of resources that takes place in any newsroom.
In any event, radio news has sent another radio journalist to cover the story,” it said.

In 2006, SABC management set up a commission under former SABC head Zwelakhe Sisulu and advocate Gilbert Marcus SC after complaints about a ruling that certain commentators and analysts not be used because they were critical of President Thabo Mbeki.

The inquiry found that the SABC had indeed blacklisted certain commentators and analysts, albeit not officially.

They apparently included former SAfm Live anchor John Perlman, who has since resigned; independent political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi; the author of a book on Mbeki, William Gumede; and Business Day staff members Vukani Mde and Karima Brown.

The blacklistings came shortly after the SABC “canned” an independently made documentary about Mbeki, and was criticised for this by the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the Democratic Alliance and other opposition parties.

In response to the commission’s findings, the SABC board tasked SABC group CEO Dali Mpofu with taking “whatever steps he deems necessary”.

The commission had recommended that anyone instructed not to use a particular analyst be entitled to ask and receive written reasons.

It also suggested the development of guidelines on the use of commentators and analysts, regular audits of their use and the training of reporters on interviewing them.

It noted that they operated “under very difficult circumstances in an environment that is ... always challenging the integrity of the public broadcaster for various reasons, some of them political”.

The commission’s report was completed in October 2006.—Sapa

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