Fear, lack of clarity and low staff morale at SABC – journalists to Hlaudi

Aljoscha Kohlstock

Cape Town - A letter purportedly written by three SABC news journalists to COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng over recent decisions at the public broadcaster was doing the rounds on social media on Monday.

It came hot on the heels of the resignation of group CEO Jimi Matthews.

Matthews announced his resignation as acting group CEO on Monday, saying he had compromised his values as a journalist following various changes at the SABC.

According to a letter being shared on Twitter, the Executive Producer (EP) of Special Assignment Busisiwe Ntuli, EP of Current Affairs Krivani Pillay and a senior investigative reporter Jacques Steenkamp expressed their "increasing concern" about the changes in the SABC newsroom.

"Our newsroom has become a source of derision, despair and criticism from the people that we are fundamentally accountable to, the public at large," the letter read.

"The developments of the past week have heightened this sense of fear, lack of clarity about our journalistic responsibility and low staff morale."

The trio disapproved of the decisions to remove the newspaper slots and morning programme The Editors on SAFM's AM Live show, saying their removal amounts to "censorship" without an adequate justification.

"As seasoned journalists within the SABC we maintain that the reasons given for these sudden decisions contradict our governing policies and legislation, namely the revised SABC Editorial Code, the Broadcasting Act and the Constitution."

'Deep concern'

The journalists also expressed their "deep concern" for three other journalists suspended by the broadcaster for stating their desire to cover a protest outside the SABC building.

"We view the suspensions of Thandeka Gqubule, Foeta Krige and Suna Venter as acts of victimisation. An editorial meeting is to debate, deliberate, argue and find consensus on news stories.

"However, based on the recent developments, it seems that this is no longer allowed during editorial line talks – a situation that we believe needs to be challenged."

The trio finished the letter by requesting an urgent meeting with Motsoeneng, to "gain clarity" and resolve the issues.

"Our primary issue is to clarify the confusion and find a lasting solution that will also provide guidelines on all editorial issues.

"Lastly we hope this will restore our public image and uphold our integrity in the eyes of those we are meant to serve."

National Editor for Radio at the SABC, Angie Kapelianis, who was cc'd in on the letter, confirmed to News24 she had seen the letter, but said she could not comment on its contents.

She referred all media questions to SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago.

Kganyago could not be reached at the time of publication after multiple attempts.



Motsoeneng should be 'fired once and for all'

The DA meanwhile also weighed in on Monday's shock developments at the SABC, saying its COO should be fired immediately.

DA shadow minister of communications Phumzile Van Damme said the party shares Matthews' sentiments that the public broadcaster has an obligation to act in the public interest. 

"The DA echoes this sentiment resoundingly and will be calling on SABC COO, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, to be fired at once as we believe the erosion of the SABC can be laid squarely at his feet and those who seek to protect him.

"His most recent order and most arbitrary ban of negative stories about President Jacob Zuma typifies the clampdown in ethical and fair reporting.

"It must be remembered that the SABC's CEO, Frans Matlala, was in November last year baselessly suspended for acting in a manner too independent for Mr Motsoeneng and his protector in the Minister of Communications, Faith Muthambi," the party claimed.

"This cannot be allowed to persist and Mr Motsoeneng must be fired."

Van Damme finished by saying the DA "will not rest" until Motsoeneng is stripped of his position and the public broadcaster can start rebuilding.

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