SABC news boss wants ‘nuanced’ news, not sensation

Neither would he take instructions from anyone trying to interfere with his editorial independence, the veteran broadcaster told the Mail & Guardian this week.

Matthews, has been accused by some of his staff of banning expelled ANC Youth League president Julius Malema from the airwaves.

"News coverage has to be based on news value, not on following the herd. I won't be stampeded into following the popular line," said Matthews. " We have a responsibility as media. Some of us who were around in the 1980s and 1990s know how quickly this kind of thing escalates into death and the destruction of communities, which get caught up in violence. There has to be a responsible attitude. It is not good enough to say that just because the guy is out there doing what he is doing, we have to hang onto his every word.

 We have to contextualise it and think about the consequences."

Matthews said he had decided to lead Tuesday night's SABC TV and radio news broadcasts with Malema's address to mineworkers at Gold Fields. At the meeting, Malema called for a national strike at all the country's mines until National Union of Mineworkers general secretary Frans Baleni and the union's  leadership steps down.

Military bases in South Africa were placed on high alert in anticipation of Malema's gathering in Lenasia, south of Johannesburg, on Wednesday. Matthews said he had sent a reporter there but decided not to cover it because of the poor attendance at the meeting.

Solid professional
"There was huge excitement and anticipation that the military would come out in force, but there were less than 40 people in attendance," Matthews said.

With 25 years' experience in journalism and broadcasting, Matthews has a reputation as a solid professional, but tensions have arisen at the public broadcaster over his directives to reporters to deliver more "nuanced" coverage of Malema.

Nobody had given him any instructions to do this, he said. It was simply the calibre of reporting he wanted from his newsroom. His call for his team to rethink how they cover news like Malema came from a desire not to sensationalise the news.

"I sometimes get the impression when I read news headlines that are almost sensational that they [the media] create this atmosphere and then feed off it. My challenge to my political team is: let's be more nuanced in our reporting. Here is a man [Malema] who is exploiting the desperation of poor people, with promises that he is not able to deliver. The call for a national strike, what exactly does that mean? This guy is supposedly unemployed, but he travels around. They must question and find who is funding him."

Matthews said he was stunned to read reports that the SABC would not be covering the congress of union federation Cosatu next week.

"How could anybody be saying we will not be covering Cosatu, especially in this political environment," he asked.

"If anyone had bothered to check with Cosatu, they would have seen this was not true, as we applied for 40 personnel to be accredited." 

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