Suspended SABC journalist speaks out

Thandeka Gqubule
Thandeka Gqubule

Thandeka Gqubule says she has had enough and can no longer be quiet about the SABC’s editorial policy

For a long time, dedicated SABC journalists have kept their concerns about editorial shenanigans at the public broadcaster to themselves. It was a case of keeping mum, or hamba kahle”.

In the past week, at least seven senior journalists at the broadcaster have decided to speak out by questioning SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s insistence on “sunshine journalism”, including a ban on visuals of violent service delivery protests.

Among them is Thandeka Gqubule, who told City Press this week: “I just became furious daily. I was resisting silently in my mind, quietly telling myself I don’t agree and that the ‘hamba kahle approach’ is just not going to work any more.”

Gqubule, who was suspended by the SABC last week for raising concerns and disagreeing with the decision not to cover a Right2Know protest outside the SABC’s offices, said the “hamba kahle approach” refers to people like her, former acting SABC CEO Jimi Matthews and many others who say “no, we don’t agree, please reconsider, please think again”.

“It’s when you are negotiating for your rights and for the very existence of your profession. But we have decided we are not going to [negotiate any longer], you guys have [violated] our rights and this has gone too far,” she said.

It was a difficult decision for Gqubule to make, but as a former lecturer of journalism at universities such as Rhodes and Monash, it was essential.

“We teach journalists to have ethics. I could no longer live with myself.”

Gqubule was at pains to emphasise that this was not about her own interests – she was speaking out for future journalists and for younger journalists.

She also revealed to City Press that many of her former students now reported to her at the SABC.

One of Gqubule’s former students is Krivani Pillay, the executive producer of The Editors, the SAfm show that was abruptly cancelled last month.

Pillay is one of the SABC journalists who was charged this week for publicly raising concerns about censorship.

“How can she be treated like that by having her show just thrown off the air? What do I say to her if she asks me about the ethics that I taught her?

“For us, canning The Editors culminated in a new editorial policy. The decision to black out the protests in Tshwane showed that things had gone too far.”

Gqubule said she was told about the canning of The Editors by a colleague.

She felt hurt for the people who had worked on the show, “but being hurt and being principled are two different things”, she said.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the ban on visuals of violent protest action in Tshwane last month.

“The capital city was burning and the journalists were very concerned [about the SABC’s lack of coverage]. Journalists were actually shouting at me, saying we are showing nothing.”

Although this had nothing to do with her beat, she was the most senior person in the newsroom that day.

“I could not bear the cognitive dissonance, where you live in one reality, but your thoughts are caught up in another. That is unbearable, how do you look yourself in the mirror?”

Gqubule said the problem at the SABC was political interference. Although she did not say who was interfering in the process, she emphasised that she and her colleagues were open to talks with all the parties involved to resolve the issues. That included the “interferers”.

“This is not about disrespecting Mr Motsoeneng or any other person, or about dissing the SABC, it’s a desperate attempt to help build [the broadcaster].

“As journalists, we don’t want to be at war with our community. We want this matter resolved.

“They either want a docile broadcaster or they want a highly competent, functioning organisation that plays a good role in the democratic dispensation and creates harmony among our people. For us, it’s either the latter or it’s nothing,” said Gqubule.

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