Ringfence 'core news' posts at SABC, urges editors' forum as media industry bleeds jobs

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The SABC describes the current financial crisis as 'the most critical for the future and sustainability of this 84-year-old institution'.
The SABC describes the current financial crisis as 'the most critical for the future and sustainability of this 84-year-old institution'.
  • The SABC group executive for news and current affairs has said retrenchment letters will be withdrawn from affected workers, following a heated meeting with staff on Tuesday.
  • Editors' forum Sanef has raised concerns over potential instability at the broadcaster and will seek a meeting with management.
  • Union Bemwau has said the SABC has not followed proper consulting throughout the retrenchment process, and it is planning a challenge at the labour court.

The SA National Editors Forum will seek a meeting with SABC management, to get a "deeper understanding" of its restructuring plans impacting some 400 workers. It has appealed to the broadcaster to ringfence "core news" and core current affairs posts. 

Sanef on Tuesday issued the statement, this following a heated meeting between SABC management and staff over planned retrenchments, with TV anchors reportedly refusing to go on air. Fin24 earlier reported that SABC group executive for news and current affairs Pathiswa Magopeni would withdraw retrenchment letters issued.

Fin24 has reached out to the SABC for comment on the matter. It said it would issue a statement in due course.

President of the Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers Union (Bemawu), Hannes Du Buisson, said it appeared the withdrawal of letters only applied to the news department of the SABC, and the decision should apply to all workers affected by the retrenchment process. He also accused the SABC management of not following a proper consultation process, and it has since lodged an application at the Labour Court, a hearing date is still to be set.

In its statement, SANEF raised concerns about the instability at the national broadcaster over the retrenchment process. "SANEF calls on the SABC leadership to continue to fulfil its public mandate by ensuring that its budget cuts do not curtail a number of critical services including its African language and regional programming.

"We call for the SABC to ringfence core news and current affairs posts and not compromise its core public mandate of news delivery," the statement read.

Sanef noted that more than 700 jobs had been lost in the media industry since the lockdown was implemented in March.

"Sanef notes with deep concern that in many newsrooms around the country, journalists are simply not replaced, resulting in a diminished capacity to cover the length and breadth of the country."

The alliance secretariat – comprising the ANC, the SA Communist party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) also issued a statement on the matter as the situation at the SABC was discussed at a meeting.  

"The Alliance Secretariat expressed solidarity with the workers and vehement opposition to any weakening of the SABC and its public broadcasting mandate and its subordination to commercial interests," the statement read.

Earlier on Tuesday, the SABC tabled its 2019/20 annual report – it reported a net loss of R511 million for the year ended March 2020. This is a 6% decline compared to the previous years performance. Its revenue also took a knock of 12%, down to R5.7 billion, attributed to a decrease in advertise spend across the industry as well as declining TV licence revenue.

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