I wish I could be a fly on the wall on Monday, when Communications Minister Faith Muthambi marches into Luthuli House and explains the SABC chaos. It will surely make for an interesting conversation and could signal big changes at the public broadcaster.
I doubt this will be a quick in-and-out for Muthambi. The current situation will take some explaining – and the result of the meeting must speak volumes.
That’s if an ANC presser on Tuesday is anything to go by. An impressive Jackson Mthembu took charge of outlining the ruling party’s stance amid the turmoil at the public broadcaster and made it clear in no uncertain terms that a) there’s a leadership crisis at the SABC that must be addressed by appointing qualified people b) that the decision to ban certain visuals from bulletins was irrational and that it was taken without broader consultation and c) that the party at no stage colluded with SABC staff to minimise coverage of other political parties.
In fact, the party also claims to be a victim of SABC censorship at times. The last point speaks directly to claims made by former SABC CEO Jimi Matthews at the weekend – who admitted to curbing EFF coverage. Matthews claims that decision was made at the behest of some ANC leaders. But the party emphatically denies this.
Tuesday’s press conference did not paint SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng or Matthews glowingly. On Matthews, Mthembu said, “Here is a man who has done so many wrong things with other people.” For the first time the urgency and determination in Mthembu’s voice made me believe that the ruling party could really be pushing for change on this issue, despite the widely reported love that President Jacob Zuma has for Hlaudi Motsoeneng.
The ANC’s presser also went a long way in dispelling the SABC narrative that all is well within the corporation and that “just because a few people are coughing” doesn’t mean anything is seriously wrong.
But, while we wait for Muthambi to enter Luthuli House on Monday, civil society will up the ante with more protests – demanding that Motsoeneng pack his bags and that seven journalists, either suspended or charged, be allowed back at work. Pressure is mounting on the public broadcaster to start cleaning house, to simply do the right thing – to allow reporters to do their work without fear or favour. The SABC must be consistently reminded of its mandate and whom it serves.
Something has got to give. In years to come we must be able to look back at this time in the public broadcaster’s existence as a watershed moment. If we let this one go, and the SABC remains in the state that it is, being led by the same people, we will pay a heavier price. The SABC must be claimed back. It doesn’t belong to Jimi Matthews. It doesn’t belong to Hlaudi Motsoeneng. It belongs to you and me. And therefore we should say something, we should help stop the madness – help end what has gone on for far too long. Yes, Hlaudi must go, but a better SABC must emerge.
- Faith Daniels is a seasoned radio and TV journalist, and is currently head of news at Kagiso Media’s Jacaranda FMand East Coast Radio.
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