SABC axes two over ‘politics’

2011-07-16 17:36

Political interference at the SABC has seen a talkshow host quit and a senior political reporter taken off air.

Talkshow host Eusebius McKaiser left current affairs show Interface after the broadcaster allegedly received complaints from justice minister Jeff Radebe to acting SABC chief executive Phil Molefe following an Interface interview two weeks ago.

Senior political reporter Sophie Mokoena has been taken off air following “pressure” that her superiors say they received from ANC leaders.

Officially, McKaiser’s dispute is about money, with the SABC offering to pay McKaiser a paltry R1 000 a show.

Says McKaiser: “I presented Interface and was also the content producer on every show. For these roles, the SABC wanted to pay a mere R4 000 monthly wages. So I had no choice but to resign.

The alternative is to undervalue my professional skillset and my dignity.”

McKaiser said the SABC was willing to negotiate, but complaints from political roleplayers interviewed by him scuppered the process.

“I discovered from numerous sources that SABC3 was open to meeting my request for a ­better salary. But the news and current affairs division, which is in charge of Interface, declined the channel’s help. Apparently Jimi Matthews, head of news, said: ‘It is not only about the money’.”

McKaiser claims the complaint from Radebe was the ­defining factor.

“I also do know, from a number of now ex-colleagues, that at least one guest, Minister Jeff Radebe, and his communications team, including Tlali Tlali, had complained to the SABC, possibly directly to Phil Molefe, that I had been ‘disrespectful’ by grilling him too hard on the legality of the resident’s extension of the chief justice’s term of office. Mr Matthews was asked by Mr Molefe to investigate the matter,” McKaiser said.

Tlali admitted he “shared observations on how the interview was conducted” with SABC employees, but said Radebe did not officially complain.

Mokoena was abruptly taken off air at the end of June but was also, according to a source in the SABC newsroom, not allowed to do election campaign stories in the runup to the local government elections.

At a gala event just before the election, ANC national chairperson Baleka Mbete lashed out at party leaders who put pressure on Mokoena to steer clear of ANC-related stories.

An SABC source said the faction in the ANC that is close to the SACP is flexing its muscles and putting pressure on broadcast executives to remove reporters they don’t like.

In 2009 Mokoena was subjected to a disciplinary hearing where she was accused of “making disparaging statements about the SABC and its ­management”.

She was charged after she called a talk show on 702 to criticise the SABC. She called in under a pseudonym, calling herself Fatima, but listeners soon recognised her voice.

SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said McKaiser was not “fired” by the organisation.

“The SABC and McKaiser parted ways amicably when agreement could not be reached on a new contract,” he said.

Kganyago said in Mokoena’s case the SABC, like any other business, occasionally redeploys staff where their skills are most needed.

Mokoena did not respond to requests for comment.

– Additional reporting by Loyiso Sidimba 

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