Open letter paints eNCA as ‘haven of racism’

Phakamile Hlubi. Picture: Facebook
Phakamile Hlubi. Picture: Facebook

The open letter by former eNCA hard news journalist Phakamile Hlubi paints a picture of a “haven” for racism.

This is according to editor-in-chief at eNCA, Anton Harber, who has been with the company since March this year.

“This letter gives the impression from a disgruntled ex-employee that eNCA is a haven of racism, exploitation and anti-unionism,” Harber told City Press

Harber said eNCA had a “zero-tolerance policy against racism” and said he was aware of two incidents where action was taken against staffers who used “racist terminology”.

Hlubi, who resigned from eNCA, spent some time on her last day protesting with the South African Communist Party for media transformation outside the company’s head office in Hyde Park, Johannesburg.

In her letter Hlubi said she left eNCA with no bitterness in her heart, but felt her “work was done”.

“Our journey began after senior management, with the blessing of the board, refused to grant us the right to form an employee forum in May last year.

“They made it clear that any structure which was advocating for workers’ rights on the premises was unwelcome,” Hlubi wrote in the first few paragraphs of her letter.

She said through their efforts, engagement with unions had taken place and while it was clear that change was happening, “much more” needed to be done by management.

Harber said employees were allowed to join a union and that it would be recognised if it garnered enough support.

“We have an employment equity forum and are setting up a staff forum to discuss related issues. We are far from perfect, but we are trying to drive an open, accountable, transformation agenda,” Harber said.

While the company is “far from perfect” he said, the “doek” issue and the continued revision of policies is an example of eNCA’s commitment to transformation.

“I am confident we will emerge with a progressive policy that embraces and celebrates the diversity of our country and our newsroom,” he said.

Hlubi encouraged other employees to fight for their rights and challenge management if they felt their voices were being stifled.

“I urge the employees to continue engaging. But it must translate to action and real changes in the way we operate.

“I urge you to take Anton Harber on. If there is anything you are unhappy with, raise it. If you find your cries fall on deaf ears, fight for change,” she wrote.

*This story has been updated to include Anton Harber's comments

Full letter

A Letter to the workers at eNCA:

Greetings comrades. This is the last time that I shall be addressing you. It's a bitter sweet moment for me. Many of you have become my friends, some of you are like my family.

Our journey began after senior management, with the blessing of the board, refused to grant us the right to form an employee forum in May last year.

They made it clear that any structure which was advocating for workers’ rights on the premises was unwelcome. 

This organization which was started by unionists,  whose majority shareholding is the trade union SACTWU, was hostile to any form of organised labour.

As employees we refused to accept the situation and so the struggle to assert our rights began. At first they mocked us when we picketed.

They assumed because the numbers were so low we would never achieve anything.  They assumed the world would ignore our plight and that our struggle would never be televised... they were wrong.

The public heeded our cry for help and the social media backlash resulted in positive changes for us.

Thanks to our efforts,  for the first time in the history of e Media, the company was forced to engage with the Communication Workers Union, as ordered by the CCMA.

This was unheard of in the past. As you know, many previous generations of workers  had tried to do what we did, with dire consequences.

The management changes we witnessed in the news room were also as a result of our efforts. The news room was suffocating.

We were forced to operate in an atmosphere of fear and bullying. Those who stood up for their rights were silenced through victimization, or attempts were made to frustrate them into quitting.

The success of the "Doek Campaign" speaks volumes about how far we have come as employees.

For the first time workers at eNCA were emboldened enough to take a public stand against the company's dress code policy.

We were fighting against the culture of exclusion and racism. When you ban head scarves on air you are excluding African and Muslim women.

You are excluding our mothers who struggled to get us here. We are an African news network, broadcasting to Africans on the continent. The current dress code policy does not reflect who we are, and worse, it doesn't reflect the values of the constitution.

Thanks to the public stand taken by us, it's been scrapped and a new one is being written as we speak.

To the management at e.

I have to acknowledge the shift in mentality, but much more needs to be done.

As a media house, we have no right to accuse president Jacob Zuma of failing to defend the constitution when we are guilty of the same thing.

Whether we like it or not, we are part of the democratic project of this country.

The freedoms we enjoy, including the freedom of speech, the freedom to dignity and the right to organise are as a result of the suffering of millions of African people.

There is no justification for a company like E, which was formed after Apartheid, to be implementing policies which are a reflection of the past.

The role of journalists is to expose corruption and to speak truth to power. If you are in the news business, then you have to accept that your employees will hold you accountable for the decisions you make.

We cannot claim to be an 'independent' media house if the people who work here are punished for speaking out.

But crucially we must also be self-critical. It was this lack of self-criticism that allowed the phenomenon of phone hacking to proliferate in the UK.

In the summary of his report on the scandal, Lord Justice Leveson who chaired the commission of inquiry into phone hacking and other ethical violations by the UK media, says of self-criticism:

 "Indeed the press would be the very first to expose such practices, to challenge and campaign in support of those whose legitimate rights and interests are being ignored, and who are left with no real recourse. That is indeed the function of the press; to hold those with power to account"

It was this lack of self-criticism which allowed U.S. journalists to become embedded in the now discredited narrative of President George. W. Bush's war machinery in the early 2000's.

As a result the American media played a large part in misleading the public, and giving a false pretext for war and the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

If as journalists we are unable to engage openly and honestly about the conditions affecting us, then we are practicing self-censorship.

If we fail to do our duty, then we bear culpability and give ammunition to those who say the way to fix the media is through a tribunal.

A robust independent newsroom is our only defense against capture.

As workers, we have done well. We should be proud of ourselves for having come this far. But this is when the hard work really begins.

We still have many problems at E. The lack of transformation,  racism, unjustifiable salary discrepancies amongst people who do the same work, are just some of the problems which must be addressed. 

Anton Harber's appointment as Editor-in-Chief has brought an air of openness and engagement which was non-existent previously.

When he took the position Harber promised to be a "champion for transformation", and he has spent countless hours engaging employees.

I urge the employees to continue engaging. But it must translate to action and real changes in the way we operate.

I urge you to take Anton Harber on. If there is anything you are unhappy with, raise it. If you find your cries fall on deaf ears, fight for change.

You have shown time and time again that you have the tools at your disposal to fight this battle to its end.

Some of you have asked why I am leaving when there is still so much to be done. The answer is simple.  My work is done.

My role was simply to demonstrate that we have nothing to lose by standing up for our rights. We have nothing to fear by raising our voices.

We are not alone in our struggle. The response we have received from the public, and from political parties are proof that you are not alone.

And you will no longer have to fight alone. The lack of a credible organisation to fight for the rights of journalists, means that we must lean on each other, and support each other, especially those journalists and media workers of our competitor.

We are all fighting for change.

The time has come for me to chase my own dreams and that's why I'm leaving.

I leave E with no bitterness, in my heart. I fought a good fight because the constitution was the bedrock upon which I based this battle.

All I have ever wanted is for the employees at E, to be and feel free.

I leave you with the words of Ndazana ‘Nat’ Nakasa, a South African journalist who died fighting for freedom.

"I may shut up for sometime because of fear, even this will not make me feel ashamed. For I know that as long as the ideas remain unchanged within me, there will always be the possibility that one day, I shall burst out and say everything that I wish to say in a loud and thunderous voice".

Phakamile Hlubi, signing out for the last time.

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