No evidence of ANC interference at SABC, inquiry says

 

 

A commission of inquiry into interference at the SABC has not uncovered a direct line between the ANC and editorial decisions at the public broadcaster.

In his report on alleged editorial interference at the SABC, journalist Joe Thloloe noted that the commission could find no evidence of “a direct line between decisions at ANC headquarters, Luthuli House, and decisions in the newsroom”.

But, he added, “the spectre of the ANC hovered over the newsroom”.

The independent commission of inquiry was established in May last year and received written and oral submissions from SABC employees, political parties and civil society organisations.

According to the report, the commission heard no evidence corroborating a plot to “capture the SABC newsroom”. “There were no email or SMS trails we could follow,” the report states.

However, the report does quote the broadcaster’s national television news editor, Nyana Molete, as saying: “When it comes to politicians, remember, you also have the SABC reporting to a minister. That minister would be a member of a particular political party. Since 1994 all these ministers that the SABC reported to were ANC deployees … Then you also find senior executives who actually enjoy being … in the company of ministers … They don’t know whether they work for the SABC or they work for the Minister, and in some cases whether they work for the ANC or work for the SABC.”

In the report, former communications minister Faith Muthambi is named as one of the people who between 2012 and 2017, gave instructions to SABC executives despite “having no authority in the newsroom”.

“The executives thus failed to execute their duties in terms of the editorial policies,” the report reads.

The commission found that Molete, head of TV news Nothando Maseko and head of radio news Sebolelo Ditlhakanyane were “pivotal to the execution of instructions” from former SABC chief operating officer (COO) Hlaudi Motsoeneng, former SABC chief executive Jimi Matthews and former SABC head of news Simon Tebele.

“They [Molete, Maseko and Ditlhakanyane] succumbed because of threats of dismissal from their immediate superiors,” the report says.

In a press statement, SABC board chair Bongumusa Makhathini said the board received the report at its first quarterly meeting last week.

“It believes that it is an important milestone after a very bleak and dark past, particularly for the SABC’s journalists and editorial staff … The report sets out details and findings with respect to a very painful period in the history of the public broadcaster,” the statement reads.

The statements adds that “the SABC commits to taking urgent disciplinary action against those implicated”. “The SABC wants to put on record that it will not tolerate any

interference with the editorial independence of the newsroom.”

In the report, Thloloe asks if the ANC turned a “blind eye to the mounting crisis” at the public broadcaster.

He draws various links between the party and the work of the SABC, including Muthambi’s alleged insistence on coverage while doing ANC work; and Motsoaneng’s scrapping of ‘The Editors’ radio programme because guests were “always lambasting the ANC”.

“Furthermore, it is not clear who was pulling the strings behind Motsoeneng, however his utterances to the executives who attempted to resist his manipulation — ‘I will go to Pretoria and see the president’’; ‘All events attended by the president must be covered by the SABC irrespective of their news-worthiness’; or ‘I will call the president now’ — speak volumes that he was linked to the office of former president Jacob Zuma,” the report reads.

The report acknowledges interventions by the ANC against alleged political interference at the SABC under Motsoeneng’s leadership, but notes: “The ANC’s message to the COO did not reach the newsroom and did not help staff resist bullying.”

According to the report, Ditlhakanyane told the commission: “There was a pattern, but mostly it was to protect the ANC. I may not have been instructed by a politician myself but I think it was more for the benefit of the ANC.”

“The commission accepts that any person, organisation or institution in the country has the right to influence coverage by the SABC, but the decision on what to cover and how to cover it rests with the editorial staff,” the report says.

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Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

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