Johannesburg - SABC chief operations officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng should not be punished for a lie he told 19 years ago, the broadcaster said in court papers, according to The New Age on Thursday.
SABC board chairperson Ellen Tshabalala denied that the broadcaster and Communications Minister Faith Muthambi rewarded "malfeasance" when permanently appointing Motsoeneng.
"He has been appointed in the interests of the SABC - to achieve its stability going forward," she was quoted as saying.
"Hlaudi Motsoeneng has been in the position of acting COO for more than two years and there is no direct evidence of harm that he has caused to the SABC in that time."
In February, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela released a report on Motsoeneng, while he was acting COO. She found that his salary increased from R1.5m to R2.4m in one year, that he had purged senior staff, and misrepresented his matric qualifications to the SABC. Madonsela recommended that a new COO be appointed to the SABC within 90 days.
In July, Muthambi announced Motsoeneng's permanent appointment, saying he was cleared of all wrongdoing by a legal firm before the decision was made.
The Democratic Alliance launched a high court bid to have his appointment set aside. Muthambi and the SABC filed opposing court papers.
The newspaper reported that Tshabalala, in her papers, rubbished Madonsela's report.
"Upon investigation into this recommendation by the public protector, the SABC is satisfied that there has been no irregular spending through unlawful and improper actions of Motsoeneng."
Madonsela's office said on Wednesday she had subpoenaed Muthambi as part of her investigation because she could not secure a meeting with her.
"The public protector wrote to the minister last month requesting a meeting and the minister responded by saying that as the matter is a subject of an ongoing court process, she was not going to avail herself for a meeting with the public protector, Madonsela's spokesperson Kgalalelo Masibi said.
On Friday, The New Age apologised for the article, headlined "No need to punish Hlaudi", saying it was incorrectly attributed to SABC board chair Ellen Tshabalala.
"The introductory paragraph to a story on Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the chief operating officer of the SABC, published in yesterday's The New Age could have been misinterpreted and erroneously attributed to the chairperson of the board Ellen Tshabalala.
"It said Motsoeneng could not be punished 'for a lie he told 19 years ago'. Tshabalala was, in fact, responding and rebutting a claim made by the Democratic Party [Democratic Alliance] that Motsoeneng had lied about his matric qualification when he applied for a job at the broadcaster 19 years ago.
"In her responding affidavit to the Cape High Court, Tshabalala said: "Furthermore, according to the applicant [the DA], Mr Motsoeneng misled the SABC, to its knowledge as far back as 1995 when he was first employed.
"An extract from Mr Motsoeneng's interview by the public protector, a copy of which I refer to and attach below, shows that the SABC was always aware that Mr Motsoeneng did not have matric, and knew this when it disciplined and dismissed him for other reasons in 2007 and when it later upheld his appeal against his dismissal and re-engaged him.
"These being the facts, which the applicants is constrained to accept, then a significantly long period of time has passed in which the SABC failed to discipline Mr Motsoeneng for any alleged dishonesty, which is in any event denied.
"The law requires disciplinary action to be taken fairly expeditiously, failing which it would become unfair to discipline an employee.
"Mr Motsoeneng circumstances would make any disciplinary action regarding the issue of his matric manifestly unfair at this stage," reads The New Age apology.
Sapa editor Mark van der Velden said the agency lifted the main points of The New Age's original report in good faith on the basis that the information published was in the public interest.