Friday, June 1, 2018

SABC starts two commissions of enquiry to investigate editorial interference in the SABC newsroom, as well as sexual harassment at the public broadcaster.

The SABC's acting CEO, Nomsa Philiso, announced that the South African public broadcaster is starting two commissions of enquiry - one into possible editorial interference into SABC News, and one into sexual harassment and abuse.

Joe Thloloe, executive director of the Press Council will lead the commission of inquiry into possible SABC newsroom interference - both political and commercial interference as well as possible interference by NGO pressure groups - with SABC staffers as well as the public that can make submissions between 1 to 15 June, after which oral hearings will take place from 15 June.

This inquiry into editorial interference at the SABC will cover the time period of 2012 to 2018 with a legal firm assisting Joe Thloloe and Nomsa Philiso saying "I do not want anybody from the SABC at all to be part of the panel - whether junior or senior. I believe the panel should be as independent as possible".

The SABC hopes to finish by 15 July and to have a draft report ready by 8 August that will be shared with the media.

Submissions for editorial interference can be sent to and for sexual harassment to From 1 June the SABC is also placing submission boxes at the broadcaster's regional offices for people who want to drop off paper documents.

Nomsa Philiso said the SABC feels it hasn't "done justice" to allegations regarding editorial interference into the operations of the SABC newsroom and said the one inquiry is being done because if you "don't fix it festers and it becomes a bigger issue".

"From an SABC point of view, it's absolutely key that the integrity of news is beyond question. We want to start by saying that we are in the phase of renewal, we are in the phase of fixing, and this is one of the things we are starting to do as we go into the road of recovery."

"One of the things we find ourselves in, is more often than not, the SABC makes headlines for the wrong reasons. And the things that are within our control, and the things that we can clean up, we do feel that we need to prioritise those."

Nomsa Philiso said the inquiry into editorial interference is "not a witch hunt of any shape or form". "What is important for us, is for us to learn the lessons, and also to see how we can future-proof our newsroom to make sure that the mistakes of the past won't happen again and to actually understand the environment - to say why did they happen and what can we do to make sure that those things don't happen again".

"We hope that some of the things that come out of this inquiry will help us to enhance and improve the SABC's editorial policy. This is not about a witch hunt but about repositioning the SABC and making that going forward we're not going to repeat the mistakes of the past."

The SABC's second commission of inquiry is about sexual harassment in the workplace, with Nomsa Philiso saying "the issue of personal favours is quite serious" and will be broad in scope, including unwelcome touching and "just how it makes you feel" to serious allegations about sex-for-jobs inside SABC corridors. "We are going to make sure that we follow this through to the full extent of the law in the event that the veracity of allegations are proven".

For the next two weeks people will also be able to tell the SABC about sexual harassment and abuse they've experienced - with the SABC that wants to hear from both SABC staffers, as well as freelancers who've worked or are working for the SABC, as well as people who've never worked for the SABC but have had interaction with the public broadcaster and encountered sexual harassment or abuse.

"What is important for us is to ensure absolute confidentiality because we recognise that part of why people don't take these issues is it's either [because of] the stigma or just lack of trust in the system of whether or not something will come out of it. We would like to assure our staff and everybody else that we're taking this process seriously because we do think that we need to cleanse ourselves as a starting point."

"This inquiry is not going to be restricted to just permanent SABC staff members," said Nomsa Philiso.

It has to do with courage
"We've heard that some of our freelancers have experienced some of these atrocities so we'd like to extend the commission of inquiry to anyone that has felt aggrieved or harassed by any of the SABC staff members. We have also been informed that there have been some suppliers of services to the SABC who have been asked for personal favours. We're also appealing to them to come and join in the inquiry."

"We hear about the youngsters who have aspirations to be in this business. We hear about students who have been lured with promises that have not materialised."

"Those are some of the people - they may not be working for us as freelancers, but I think we all know what happens with the auditions and all of that stuff, and if people have got information that can lead us to cleansing ourselves, we welcome that information".

Nomsa Philiso said the SABC inquiries are "about resetting the tone of our values".

"It's about the rumours that are festering and we don't want to leave them unattended. I believe that one of the responsibilities of leadership is that once you know about something, you have a responsibility to act on it. There was actually a firm allegation by one of the staff members who said we need to investigate the sex-for-jobs issue at the SABC and we believe it's not something we can take lightly."

"This is probably one of the most difficult things to do. Because it has to do with courage. It has to do with people being able to stand up and say 'we're fixing'. Why now? Why not then? I just want to say this is as good time as any. Maybe, if anything, it is too late. it may be too late in other instances. But I do believe that at some point, we do need to start," said Nomsa Philiso.

"These things have been bubbling underneath but we have never dealt with it. So we want to open it up and deal with it."

"I do not have any illusion that when we finish this inquiry that those things will not happen again because our society is what it is. What I'm hoping for, is that it start to change the tone and does not enable. By keeping quiet I believe that to a large extent we're enabling".

The organisation Sisters Working in Film and Television (Swift) said it commends the SABC for taking this step, saying "it's something that as an organisation we've been working on for the last two years. For people in leadership to be actively taking action in this direction is very encouraging".