Report that SABC wants SSA to spy on staff misleading - public broadcaster

2019-11-24 12:42
SABC headquarters in Auckland Park, Johannesburg.

SABC headquarters in Auckland Park, Johannesburg.

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The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) has hit back at the Sunday Times following its report that the public broadcaster's board resolved at a meeting in October to use the State Security Agency (SSA) to "manage leaks".

The publication reported that according to minutes of the meeting, it was agreed that SABC board chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini would be mandated to approach the SSA to assist in managing leaks and identify loopholes. It was further suggested that the process would include vetting staff who dealt with board information. 

Leaked minutes

According to the Sunday Times, the plan may have come about as a result of the leaking of minutes earlier this year which dealt with complaints that the board's deputy chairperson, Mamodupi Mohlala-Malaudzi and board member, Marcia Socikwa interfered in the work of management. Both have denied the claim.

"It is totally false that the SABC board took a decision 'to spy on its staff members'. No such decision has been taken. The SABC is further concerned that the newspaper used confidential board minutes to sensationalise and deliberately distort information, thereby causing panic and a trust deficit between the SABC board and employees," SABC acting spokesperson Mmoni Seapolelo said in a statement on Sunday. 

The publication reported that SABC board member Mary Papayya made the proposal.

"Further, it is completely unfair and misleading for the Sunday Times to attribute a board discussion to only one board member, Ms Mary Papayya, and have no regard to the final resolutions taken by the full board."

Seapolelo said the SABC upheld the rights to freedom of expression and the right to privacy for all its employees.

"In fact the board has in the past taken a decision that no journalist should be subject to SSA processes of any kind in order to protect the constitutional rights of the media."

Disclosures

However, she added that the broadcaster deals with the SSA on several key issues, such as the disclosure of confidential company information to third parties and the media.

"The SABC has witnessed several disclosures of confidential company information in the past year and the board is duty bound to ensure that confidential information relating to the organisation is protected. In this regard, we are no different from any other company in South Africa which would seek to protect the confidentiality of its lawful discussions and activities. In protecting the public broadcaster, the SABC will always act within ambit of the law," Seapolelo said. 

"The mere fact that the Sunday Times newspaper is in possession of confidential board minutes and quotes its contents is indicative that there is a problem that needs to be dealt with. Whether the SABC engages with the SSA or private security experts, it remains entitled to investigate breaches of confidentiality and to protect its information."

The South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) has welcomed the board's response.

"The SABC has stated that it does engage the State Security Agency (SSA) on several matters – such as the leaking of board minutes - but it has taken a clear decision never to place journalists under surveillance. We welcome this decision," the forum said.

Sanef said it would write to President Cyril Ramaphosa to ask him to consider Sanef's submissions on the unconstitutionality of the Critical Infrastructure Bill and to refer it back to the National Assembly for reconsideration.

Sanef previously made submissions on the Bill, arguing that the unconstitutionality of provisions applied to journalists employed by an institution that is a national key point, such as the SABC.

"We officially give notice to the SABC Board, the president, Parliament and all South Africans that we act to protect the public broadcaster, including through launching legal proceedings to challenge the constitutionality of the Bill if necessary."

The organisation said Papayya, who is Sanef's acting Media Freedom Committee chairperson, was committed to media freedom.

"We also place it on record that she recused herself from all discussions on all SABC concerned matters at our council meeting on Saturday 23rd November 2019 – and has previously done so in all SABC matters generally."

- Compiled by Vanessa Banton

Read more on:    ssa  |  sabc
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