It is a shame that inequality has become sharper during our constitutional democracy than during apartheid.
Something quite significant happened on Tuesday. But, if you blinked, you might have missed it. Because that’s how long the SABC allowed the victory to sink in.
The Labour Court in Johannesburg ruled that the public broadcaster must reinstate four journalists who were axed for questioning its editorial decision to not show visuals of destructive protests. Some among them penned a letter to senior managers seeking clarity on the policy in the wake of their colleagues’ suspension for objecting to the edict.
After the immense support for these four and others fighting the same battle, it was good news all round. Clearly, as the ruling stands, it paves the way for the entire group making up the SABC8 to be reinstated. Except for one thing – the SABC announced that it would appeal the ruling...Then later on Wednesday the news that seven of the eight would be reinstated. Vuyo Mvoko being the only independent contractor.
But even the decision to initially appeal the court ruling – for what good reason one might ask? Well, I’m with you on that one. Because, even before the court ruling this week, it was pretty clear that the SABC’s case was flimsy at best. And this flimsiness it initially thought good enough to drag to court again. Thank goodness for someone’s good sense kicking in, and the process being stopped in its tracks. But the SABC’s flip-flopping cannot be surprising, if the public broadcaster’s own track record in dealing with the absurd is taken into account.
Just look at the explanations given for the editorial decision to ban violent protest visuals, for instance – the matter that got us to this very point.
When the matter was brought before communications regulator Icasa, the SABC’s arguments made for embarrassing reading. Former SABC CEO Jimi Matthews (he of “it’s cold outside the SABC” fame) at the time explained that the public broadcaster had the responsibility to not expose its journalists and camera people to the “dangers of being hit by stray bullet blows and/or affected by violent actions of protestors as has happened before” and that “where there are members of the SAPS in protests, especially violent protests, the police have their own photographers and cameras to cover the situations as this conduct is criminal in its nature in terms of the law”. Grasping at straws.
Even when Icasa told the broadcaster to reverse the editorial direction it had embarked on, the SABC first saw it fit to tell the nation publicly that no one will tell it what to do before it actually complied. Sigh.
But seemingly no lessons learnt there. Because the broadcaster keeps on pushing towards court action when really it should leave matters be and accept defeat. It would perhaps be better for a court of law to enforce the rights that are so obvious to all but the SABC. With that I hope the list of those who should be held financially liable grows because, interestingly, two senior news managers were mentioned in Tuesday’s labour court ruling – which stated the pair had to file affidavits “showing cause why they should not personally be held liable for all or part of the costs of this application”.
This should in fact serve as a wake-up call for those in the SABC newsroom who are merely enforcing what they are told to do. It really just means this: your complicity will be exposed, and you could end up being held liable for your actions. A good sign by all accounts because if these battles continue to lean towards court action – it is the public purse that’s used to fund and sustain it.
But as we focus on what is happening at the public broadcaster, and rightfully so because it does after all belong to all of us, let’s not forget about the industry as a whole. The myriad of problems facing the profession has been highlighted by various voices, such as former eNCA reporter Phakamile Hlubi, who has been labelled as disgruntled after Hlubi penned a farewell letter highlighting the struggles facing staff.
Our colleagues at ANN7 also face an uphill battle – and have done so for months, with no real uproar or public outcry about what is happening there. What sin did they commit, you ask? Well, they allegedly booed ANCYL president Collen Maine when he tried to address them in April on the company’s premises. Another allegation is that they participated in an unprotected strike – to highlight their working conditions, mind you. A slew of action is planned and has been taken against many employees but this also must be stopped. They too are our collegaues, and they need our support. Before they are forced to leave an industry they love because of the actions of a few.
We need to take lessons from the long history of injustices committed at the SABC, and allow it to never happen anywhere else, ever again. So it’s a good time to be a journalist, if you are not staring down a disciplinary committee or a pending court case.
- Faith Daniels is a seasoned radio and TV journalist, and is currently head of news at Kagiso Media’s Jacaranda FM and East Coast Radio.
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