Seven former SABC executives have written to President Jacob Zuma, Communications Minister Faith Muthambi and SABC chair Mbulaheni Maguvhe, criticising events at the public broadcaster.
The seven include former editor-in-chiefs for TV news Joe Thloloe and Allister Sparks, former news chief executive Barney Mthombothi, and former deputy CEO Govin Reddy.
They had helped transform the SABC into a “true public broadcaster” following the end of apartheid, to reflect a commitment to openness, fairness, and independence, both in its programming and the way it was governed, they wrote.
“We write to express our grave concern at the extent to which the SABC has deviated from the clear principles of good public broadcasting that were laid down at the time of that transformation.”
They criticise the “enforcement of news censorship”, the suspension of journalists as a “gross violation”, and the SABC’s general “abandonment” of its mandate to provide an honest reflection of events in society.
“This is a betrayal, not only of the South African public, which the SABC is called upon to serve without fear or favour, but also of many people in civil society, as well as broadcasting specialists from abroad, who worked hard to produce a public broadcaster to rival the best in the world,” the letter read.
“The news is censored. Editorial decisions are dictated from above. The public broadcaster that the SABC had become, with an editorial code that committed the corporation to fair, balanced and impartial journalism, free from outside influences, be they political or commercial, shows clear signs of reverting back into being a state broadcaster.”
They called on the SABC to be a force for good, a well from which all its people could drink, and a reference point for a society in quest of unity.
The letter listed five changes they would like to see at the SABC:
- An end to censorship of certain news items, which violated the principles of freedom of information and freedom of speech as enshrined in the Constitution.
- The state of fear under which SABC employees were working was not conducive to good journalism or programming and had to stop.
- Those found responsible for the censorship and victimisation of employees should be disciplined and fired.
- The SABC needed to revert to the codes, principles and practices that were adopted at the time of transformation.
- The SABC board should appoint a credible and independent task team to investigate the malaise at the corporation and allow all employees to give evidence without fear of victimisation.
The letter is signed by Brigalia Bam – former deputy chairperson of SABC board; Professor Njabulo S Ndebele – former SABC board member and University of Johannesburg chancellor; Joe Thloloe – former editor-in-chief, SABC TV news; Allister Sparks – former board member and editor-in chief, television news; Govin Reddy – former deputy CEO, SABC; Mathatha Tsedu – former deputy chief executive, SABC news; Barney Mthombothi – former chief executive, SABC news.
Methodist bishop slams media muffling at SABC
The Methodist Church of Southern Africa has also expressed concern about the “alleged media muffling” at the SABC.
Press freedom was a fundamental cornerstone of any democracy, Bishop Ziphozihle Siwa said on Monday.
“Suggestions that this freedom is being compromised are cause for grave concern. The public has a right to free and unfettered news and information, especially from the public broadcaster that is the only source of broadcast media for millions,” Siwa said.
This followed SABC chief operations officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s decision to no longer air footage of the destruction of property during protests, the suspension of several journalists who had criticised this decision, and the resignation of acting chief executive officer Jimi Matthews last Monday.
Siwa said allegations of self-censoring at the SABC were alarming.
“By its very definition, the public broadcaster should serve the interests of the public, and it is in the interests of the public and public accountability, for them to know the good, the bad and the ugly,” he said.
Siwa said the public could not be treated like children who needed to be protected from unsavoury aspects of life, or like an irrational individual who could not be trusted not to imitate what they saw and heard.
“We lived through many years of pain because the media was driven by propaganda and we cannot allow this to happen again; what is happening at the SABC must be investigated and there must be urgent interventions. We must all defend media freedom,” he said.
The church called on the SABC’s leadership and the communications ministry to investigate and intervene urgently.