Mixed reaction over SABC's Molefe
Johannesburg - A tide of questions and comments on Wednesday greeted reports that the SABC had put its head of news and current affairs Phil Molefe on special leave.
The ANC Youth League questioned the broadcaster's decision, accusing it of having done so because Molefe gave suspended ANCYL president Julius Malema too much airtime.
"It is becoming clearer now that [chief executive Lulama] Makhobo was appointed to pursue factional agendas in the SABC, and not fulfil the public broadcasting mandate of the SABC," the league said in a statement.
"She should know from the beginning, that all SABC CEOs who lead the public broadcaster with a narrow factional agenda and mandate, never last at the SABC."
The Star newspaper reported that Molefe was put on leave after he apparently defied his senior executives' orders to give less airtime to Malema.
He also allegedly refused to obey orders given to him by Makhobo and chief operating officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng.
The ANCYL said placing Molefe on special leave was politically motivated and they would not be shocked if he were ultimately fired.
SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said the league was reacting to a "speculative report" by the newspaper.
"This is a speculative report that doesn't have any basis at all. What is strange is that all the newspapers have different stories and they all quote 'reliable sources' at the SABC. Something must be wrong," said Kganyago.
The Democratic Alliance said the reports that Molefe was put on special leave because of Malema confirmed the SABC's editorial independence was under threat.
"Changes in key editorial and management positions at the SABC tend to coincide with the ANC’s internal political strife and communications campaigns," DA MP Marian Shinn said in a statement.
"This makes it exceptionally difficult for editorial and creative staff of integrity to properly perform their duties and fulfil the SABC’s public broadcasting mandate."
Shinn said she had written to Parliament's portfolio committee on communications to call the SABC board and executive management to explain the editorial crisis.
She said she would call on the Independent Communications Authority of SA to evaluate whether the "politically inspired" upheavals at the SABC undermine its broadcasting mandate.
"Drastic changes must be made to the governance structure of the SABC to ensure the future viability of the corporation," said Shinn.
The United Democratic Movement said the SABC's decision was worrisome and an abuse of power.
"Putting someone on special leave for giving more airtime to one faction of the ruling party than the other, shows the paralysis the ruling party's infighting has caused to an already dysfunctional SABC," UDM president Bantu Holomisa said in a statement.
He said it was "funny" how the same SABC senior management members always talked about the editorial independence of its news department when opposition parties complained about it being used to promote the ANC.
Both the ANCYL and Holomisa called for Molefe to be reinstated.
The Sowetan newspaper quoted unnamed sources as saying Molefe was put on special leave because he was accused of leaking information to the newspaper and the Sunday World about Motsoeneng.
Some former and current SABC executives recently asked Public Protector Thuli Madonsela to investigate Motsoeneng's alleged misdemeanours and his rise in the SABC management ranks, despite not having a matric certificate, the newspaper reported.
According to the report, the decision by the SABC suggested it was in talks with Molefe to buy him out of his employment contract, which had become the norm at the public broadcaster.
The Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) welcomed the decision to put Molefe on special leave.
"Molefe has a track record of being extremely hostile to the trade union movement and of being biased in terms of broadcasting," CWU national spokesperson Matankana Mothapo said in a statement.
"This is the issue we and other progressive organisations have been raising, about the manipulation of the SABC newsroom by senior people there."
He urged Communications Minister Dina Pule to investigate leaks of confidential information by some of the SABC's board members and senior managers.
The Media Workers Association of SA was "deeply concerned" about the situation at the public broadcaster and said it risked losing its credibility.
"The SABC is the public broadcaster; it must owe no allegiance to factions of the ruling or any political party, business or sections of the population," general secretary Tuwani Gumani said in a statement.
It should serve the public interest, and this could only be achieved if it covered news "without fear or favour".
"It must never again be placed in the role of 'his-master's-voice', as was the case in the days of apartheid South Africa. If it was unacceptable then, it is unacceptable now."
The union was "banished" from the SABC in August 2011 for "insisting on simple management fundamentals", but now felt vindicated as other parties were calling for the broadcaster to be placed under administration.
"To this end we call on South Africans to demand credible leadership at the helm of the SABC, from the ministry, Parliament, board, executive, management, staff and the general public in the repositioning of the SABC on a sustainable development path," Gumani said.