/ 23 September 2011

SABC drawn into NUM, Numsa feud

Tensions between Cosatu’s National Union of Mineworkers and the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa have now spilled over to the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

This week the South African Communist Party (SACP) entered the fray, and accused the SABC of biased reporting in favour of “certain individuals” and factions inside the union movement for narrow political purposes.

A high-ranking union leader from the Communication Workers’ Union claimed that the main culprit behind biased reporting at the SABC was Cedric Gina, president of the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (Numsa), who also sits on the SABC board.

“We have had a lot of complaints from our members who are workers at the SABC, saying this man is in charge of the SABC. He hires and fires people,” the unionist told the Mail & Guardian.

The union leader said Gina was using the SABC to campaign for members of Numsa at Cosatu’s congress in 2012.

At the congress, Frans Baleni of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and Numsa’s Irvin Jim are expected to contest the position of Cosatu’s secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi.

Numsa’s spokesperson, Castro Ngobese, declined to comment, saying: “We don’t comment on stories or issues coming from faceless sources.”

Asked how can one person influence the whole board and editorial decisions, the source said Gina is aligned with key people both on the board and the newsroom.

CWU spokesperson Matankana Mothapo did not want to say who the factions or board members influencing news were.

Both the SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago and Gina dismissed the allegations that board members influenced editorial decisions.

“We have always said as the SABC that we are not influenced by any political party, nor any business people or grouping to cover any of our stories,” he said. He added that board members are not involved in operational issues of the newsroom.

Gina said he did not want to comment on the accusations that he influences news at SABC in favour of Numsa or if he has any influence on staff decisions.

When pressed for an answer, Gina said: “We have requested Cosatu to intervene, as the people who nominated me to the board — if there are people who are not happy about my work on the board, it is proper for me to refer that to Cosatu so that those with allegations can put them in front of the organisation; it won’t be appropriate for me to comment.”

But the source said the reason the SACP issued a statement in support of the NUM, who initially issued a strongly-worded statement which called for SABC board and news executives to resign, was because they support NUM’s views in the raging Cosatu succession battle.

He confirmed a widely reported allegation that general secretaries of both unions, are vying for Vavi’s position and that Gina is using his position to profile Jim as a capable candidate.

“You know SABC is very powerful to fight political battles,” said the source.

However, Gina said although he heard allegations that Numsa is receiving preferential coverage at the SABC, he never thought his “comrades” would think he holds so much power to decide on a news agenda, since he was not even a member of the news sub-committee of the board.

Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven, could not be reached to confirm the meeting while Kganyago said he was not aware of it too.

SACP spokesperson, Malesela Maleka, however, said he was convinced that they were being sidelined by the SABC.

“It can’t be that the SABC finds nothing that we do to be newsworthy.”

He refused to say who were the board members intervening in news, as their statement said, but he said there were “huge rumours that board members tell journalists not to cover us, and so journalist don’t cover us”.

NUM’s spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said the union had in the past complained about editorial interference and the lack of coverage they had received from the SABC.