Phil Molefe, the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s head of news, apparently did not inform his senior editorial staff that he was preparing a news item about Robert Gumede and the Mail & Guardian.
The M&G has learned that Molefe assigned a reporter to cover the story and helped to write and edit the script, but did not include the item on the daily news diary meeting of departmental heads.
The news item on Wednesday, carried on both TV and radio, included a lengthy interview with Gumede in which he accused M&G reporter Sam Sole of having accepted “a bribe”. The SABC did not approach Sole for comment.
SABC insiders believe Gumede was given a “startling” amount of airtime. Interviewees on news stories usually get 10 to 20 seconds, but Gumede had 56 seconds on all SABC channels on Wednesday night.
SABC political reporter Thami Dickson read out a brief comment by M&G editor-in-chief Nic Dawes in the news piece. “They gave me a few seconds at the end of the segment, and even in that small amount of time they managed to misquote me,” said Dawes.
Insiders at the broadcaster say no mention was made of the report at the daily 11am news conference on Wednesday, or that Dickson would do an on-camera interview with Gumede at 2pm that day.
Molefe refused to discuss his role in the Gumede story. “The information you have is totally incorrect. Having said that, I feel the M&G is deflecting attention.
“Secondly it is very strange that you decide to shoot the messenger. The M&G must respond to the allegations Robert Gumede has made that its reporters received payments from [Gumede’s] former business partner.”
Dawes said Dickson contacted him first at 5.30pm. The item then featured on the 7pm TV news.
“There was never any intention not to balance the story,” Dickson said. “I reflected the comments Nic [Dawes] had given me on the phone,” he told the M&G on Thursday.
“It would have been nice to have had Nic on camera, but because of time constraints we were unable to do so.
“We are now working on a right of reply so we can have him on camera.”
Responding to media experts’ views that it is “highly unusual” for a head of news to get as involved with a story as Molefe appeared to have done, SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago said this was like objecting to national police commissioner Bheki Cele “accompanying police to Hillbrow … [Gumede’s] accusations were not made by us. Deal with the person who makes the allegations,” Kganyago said.
Molefe has previously been accused of interfering in the SABC’s coverage of his own highly controversial appointment, which SABC board chairperson Ben Ngubane made in April without consulting the rest of the board.