Certain suspended SABC journalists want their suspensions lifted following the indefinite postponement of their disciplinary hearings, trade union Solidarity said on Sunday.
“The SABC hasn’t approached us formally but we intend to engage them for meetings,” said the union’s legal representative, Anton van der Bijl.
“The ball is in the SABC court in terms of what happens next, he said, adding that depending on the outcome of attempts to engage with the public broadcaster, the next move would be to approach the Labour Court.
Van der Bijl said the journalists represented by his union were not given any reasons for the indefinite postponement of their hearings.
Solidarity represents Foeta Krige, an executive producer at RSG and Suna Venter, a senior journalist at the same radio station, as well as Thandeka Gqubule, an economics editor, and Jacques Steenkamp, an investigative journalist.
These SABC employees – together with Lukhanyo Calata, a parliamentary correspondent, Vuyo Mvoko, a specialist presenter, Busisiwe Ntuli, a Special Assigment executive producer, and Krivani Pillay, an executive producer for current affairs at SAFM – were suspended when they raised concerns, at various times, over apparent censorship at the national broadcaster.
Their actions followed SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s decision, announced in May, to no longer show footage of the destruction of property during protests. He argued that showing such material would encourage others to do the same.
On Sunday, Van der Bijl said that while it was not prescribed in labour legislation, the legal precedent was that if a disciplinary hearing was postponed indefinitely, “then you have to lift the suspension… the one cannot happen without the other.”
If needs be, the union would apply to the Labour Court to have the suspensions lifted on the basis of being “unconstitutional and unlawful”, he said.
On Sunday, the SABC refused to confirm the reports the hearings had been postponed indefinitely.
“We do not comment on employer-employee issues in the public space. We are not going to make an exception on this one,” SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago told News24.
Gqubule, Krige and Venter were due to have their hearings start on Monday, while Steenkamp, Ntui and Pillay were supposed to have had their’s take last Friday.
Following Motsoeneng’s announcement in May, acting SABC CEO Jimi Matthews resigned at the end of June, citing a climate of censorship Motsoeneng had fostered, as well as political pandering.
Matthews later claimed coverage of opposition party, the EFF, had been sidelined.
Call for judicial inquiry
Civil society protests about the matter have since taken place and the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) is due to announce the findings of public hearings into the matter shortly.
On Saturday night, the eight suspended SABC journalists received a Nat Nakasa Award for demonstrating exceptional integrity and courage in upholding their commitment to ethical journalism and freedom of expression.
The political tide appears to have begun to turn against the SABC’s leaders following a media briefing by the ANC this week in which it suggested that the broadcaster was in contravention of the Constitution as well as ANC policy.
“If you put a blanket ban on the coverage and footage of what is already burning, you are in conflict with the Constitution,” ANC NEC sub-committee on communications chairperson Jackson Mthembu said last Tuesday at a press briefing on media freedom. He also criticised management at the SABC as “lacking”.
On Friday, a group of prominent foundations representing “illustrious South Africans” including Desmond and Leah Tutu, Chief Albert Luthuli and Thabo Mbeki, among others, called for a judicial commission of inquiry into the SABC controversy.