The Campaign for Free Expression (CFE) and the SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) are insisting that the hearing into a complaint of editorial interference against the Board Chair and Group CEO be open to the media.
“This is a matter of national importance and strong public interest. The only way for the SABC and its Board to show that it is firmly opposed to editorial interference is to air the matter in public,” says Anton Harber of the CFE.
“We need to hear the evidence and assess whether there is a problem, and if so how the public broadcaster will deal with it.”
SABC editor-in-chief Phathiswa Magopeni laid the complaint, alleging that board chair Bongumusa Makhathini and GCEO Madoda Mxakwe pressured her to carry an unscheduled interview with President Cyril Ramaphosa. Magopeni contends that this was improper interference and her resistance to it has led them to try and oust her.
This came shortly after ANC leaders Jessie Duarte and Gwede Mantashe blamed the SABC, and Magopeni in particular, for the party’s poor election showing.
Magopeni was recently charged with negligence because of a programme that was aired despite a court order that it should not be. Magopeni argued that she was not responsible for the error and was being targeted. CFE and Sanef fought to have that hearing open. The SABC initially refused and then conceded the point. The hearing chair, Advocate Nazeer Cassim, found her guilty and recommended that the SABC reprimand Magopeni.
Magopeni’s complaint against the chair and GCEO will be considered by a Board sub-committtee, chaired by Board member Dr Saths Cooper.
Lawyers acting for CFE and Sanef argued in a letter to Cooper this week that there was a strong precedent for hearings of public interest in state-owned organisations to be open to the media.
“The public broadcaster plays a unique role in South Africa’s deliberative democracy, which it can either foster or undermine. It is no ordinary employer,” they argued.
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