SABC denies Manto summoned it

2005-02-01 18:16

Johannesburg - The SABC denied on Tuesday that it had been summoned to cover an international leprosy conference addressed by Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang in Midrand on Monday.

SABC spokesperson Paul Setsetse said the public broadcaster had broadcast a preview of the conference on Sunday night and it was on its news diary for Monday.

"Whether there was a delay for us to come [to the conference], it is not for us to respond; the organisers of the conference should be spoken to," he told Sapa.

Daily newspaper Business Day reported on Tuesday that Tshabalala-Msimang was scheduled to open the conference, but refused to address more than 150 experts and cured lepers until the SABC had been summoned to the venue.

It said the minister personally phoned SABC head of news, Snuki Zikalala, to ask where the camera people were.

Delegates waited for an hour-and-a-half drinking coffee and being entertained by a choir.

The newspaper, in its The Insider column, said the SABC had decided not to cover the story on Monday because of Sunday's preview.

However, after Tshabalala-Msimang spoke to Zikalala, a reporter and a camerawoman were dispatched to the venue.

The minister apparently expressed her dismay that the story had not been prioritised.

It also said that after an interview with a Radio 702 reporter, the minister was overheard saying to her aides: "Can you believe that two days ago I knew nothing about leprosy?"

Approached for comment on Tuesday, health department spokesperson Charity Bhengu said it had been decided that a statement would be e-mailed to the media on the matter.

When contacted again two-and-a-half hours later, she said the statement would no longer be issued to all the media, but only to journalists interested in the story.

Sapa was directed to her colleague Sibani Mngadi who said the department had decided not to comment on the matter.

When asked why the change in mind, Mngadi said he had written the press releases.

When pressed for comment, he said: "All I can say is the accounts of what happened are totally different to what Business Day and 702 are saying."

Setsetse said the SABC found it unethical that journalists were reporting on Tshabalala-Msimang's private conversations.

"First and foremost we find it extremely unethical and in breach of journalistic ethics to listen to the minister's private conversation and subsequently write a story on that."

He said that if Tshabalala-Msimang had spoken to Zikalala, it was "nobody's business".

"If they spoke, it was a private conversation; it's something between them. There is no law that says you cannot have a private conversation.

"It becomes a bit childish when journalists are always brewing a storm in a tea cup... when reporting about the SABC," he said.

The SABC has come under attack from political parties accusing it of being a mouthpiece of the ruling African National Congress.