Monday, August 5, 2019

Commission of inquiry into editorial interference at South Africa's public broadcaster finds 'spectre of the ANC hovered over the newsroom', ministerial interference; 'bullying and trauma' and 'work environment crippled with fear, anxiety, resentment and tensions'.

The Commission of inquiry into editorial interference at South Africa's embattled public broadcaster found that the "spectre of the ANC political party hovered over the newsroom", that SABC executives took instructions for half a decade between 2012 and 2017 from "people with no authority in the newsroom" like former SABC board chairperson certificate-faker Ellen Tshabalala and minister of communications Faith Muthambi, and that SABC News was crippled by "bullying and trauma" as a work environment filled with "fear, anxiety, resentment and tensions".

The Commission of inquiry with chairperson Joe Thloloe, the retired executive director of the Press Council of South Africa, that was announced in May 2018, released its 66-page report that it finished on 25 February 2019.

The Commission didn't release the findings of editorial interference at the SABC before South Africa's 2019 general elections because the SABC said the SABC board at the time was inquorate and that the beleaguered broadcaster had to wait for a new full board to be appointed by parliament. 

Joe Thloloe said that the Commission found that the SABC "suffered from the capricious use of authority and power to terrorise staff and to deflect the corporation from its mandate and editorial policies".

"The inquiry found an organisation crippled by pain‚ anger and fear; by frustration‚ anxiety and apathy; and by inattentiveness‚ detachment and helplessness."

The findings of the Commission of inquiry implicate several high-ranking SABC staffers as well as government officials and the broadcaster said that it will take disciplinary action against those who have been implicated.

SABC staffers took editorial instructions from the former communications minister Faith Muthambi and members of the board like Ellen Tshabalala - something which isn't supposed to happen at all.

"The evidence shows that from the year 2012 till 2017, SABC executives took instructions from people with no authority in the newsroom, for example, SABC board chairperson Ellen Tshabalala and the minister of communications, Faith Muthambi. The executives thus failed to execute their duties in terms of editorial policies," Joe Thloloe said in the report.

The Commission also found that specifically Nothando Maseko (SABC head of TV news), Sebolelo Ditlhakanyane (SABC head of radio news) and Nyana Molete were "pivotal to the execution of instructions" from executives like the famously matricless former SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng, Jimi Matthews and Simon Tebele.

The report found that these three "succumbed because of threats of dismissal from their immediate superiors". SABC taff morale was detrimental and the organisation was "crippled by pain, anger and fear".

The Commission recommended that the appointments of Nothando Maseko, Sebolelo Ditlhakanyane and Charles Matlou be audited by the SABC's human resources division.

SABC news boss, Phathiswa Magopeni, said that after visiting 13 SABC News offices across South Africa in mid-2018 "I found a newsroom that had experienced a sustained period of bullying and trauma; a work environment crippled with fear, anxiety, resentment and tensions". 

She said she found "a news operation plagued with instances of grave ethical drifts; a newsroom with journalists and editors frightened to make normal editorial decisions as they were worried about the safety of their jobs" and that "the morale was at rock-bottom".

SABC chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini at the press conference held on Monday morning at the SABC's Auckland Park headquarters about the findings of the Commission of inquiry into editorial interference said "we have to ensure that there is justice. If there are people who contravened our policies we can't fold our arms and do nothing". 

Ntuthuzelo Vanara, the SABC's head of legal, revealed that 34 SABC employees will have to go to court to explain why they should keep their jobs at the SABC as part of irregular appointments from the SABC's "ugly past" that had been exposed.

The Commission's report recommended a review of Hlaudi Motsoeneng's instructions to the SABC's human resources department to institute disciplinary hearings against employees, and dismiss or promote others. The report said that an audit of appointments must be conducted and reviewed and where gaps are found, these appointments must be reversed and re-advertised.

The Commission also advised that a news and current affairs advisory committee be created for the SABC to advise journalists, editors and producers on editorial issues that would serve as the highest point of upward referral by editorial line managers and seek to uphold the editorial policies at the broadcaster.

The Commission further recommended that at least one workshop a year be held on editorial policies and ethics for staff, and that SABC freelancers' work contracts be reviewed "as these workers need to be a healthy window into the corporation".

The Commission also said that because SABC programmes were "arbitrarily canned, shortened or changed", there needs to be improved performance management at the level of individuals and programming.

ALSO READ: After release of Commission of Inquiry's report into SABC editorial meddling the South African National Editor's Forum urges 'new custodians of the SABC newsroom to safeguard' it from future interference.
ALSO READ: 'Be fast or I will fire you, I will really fire you': South Africa's former communications minister, Faith Muthambi, faces criminal charges after release of the report of the SABC's Commission of Inquiry into editorial interference and abuse at the public broadcaster.
ALSO READ: SOS Coalition says Commission of Inquiry's report into SABC editorial meddling doesn't go far enough while former bosses 'Jimmy Matthews and Hlaudi Motsoeneng continue to live as symbols of South Africa's culture of impunity'.