Motsoeneng's protest coverage ban was the start of capture, SABC 8 journalist tells state capture inquiry

Former SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng. (Murray Louw, Netwerk24)
Former SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng. (Murray Louw, Netwerk24)

One of the so-called SABC 8, Krivani Pillay, has told the state capture commission that when former SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng decided to ban the coverage of protest action in 2016, it was the start of alleged capture. 

Testifying before inquiry chairperson, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, on Thursday, Pillay said Motsoeneng cancelled a show on SAFM after it criticised his decision.

She also told Zondo that the newsroom was "abused" and there were a lot of people who disagreed with him.

The SABC 8 was the name given to eight sacked journalists who spoke out against censorship of protest footage.

The eight journalists are Vuyo Mvoko, Thandeka Gqubule, Suna Venter, Krivani Pillay, Lukhanyo Calata, Foeta Krige, Jacques Steenkamp and Busisiwe Ntuli.

In June 2017, Venter died, reportedly from "broken heart disease".

During her testimony on Thursday, Pillay said as the executive producer of The Editors Show on SAFM at the time, she learnt about the protest footage policy through the SABCs' media statement in May 2016.

READ: I found the SABC in a state of decay - head of news tells state capture commission

She said on a Sunday, Motsoeneng's decision was discussed and criticised on the show. But this did not sit well with the former COO, she said.

Pillay said after 48 hours, Motsoeneng called her and another journalist, Foeta Krige, into a meeting, saying that the programme had brought the SABC into disrepute.

She said the show was cancelled immediately. 

"It was awful... It was the lowest point of my career… I felt embarrassed. I felt like I let the team down. I did try my best to garner reasoning from Mr Motsoeneng that I can take back to my team, [and] he wouldn't entertain my question at that meeting. I was basically told: 'You have no choice in the matter, and if you don't do it...' Then my job was threatened.

"It didn't sit well with me at all. I had sleepless nights," she said.  

She added that Motsoeneng decided to ban the protest coverage in the weeks leading up to the elections.

Pillay said the protest action was about service delivery and that the people they interviewed talked about jobs, water and food.

"When somebody says I am going to ban this [protest footage] weeks before the elections, how else do you interpret that, chair? For me it was already the start of a capture," Pillay said.

She also told the commission about a verbal instruction her team received "from the top" in February 2016.

She said they were told that there would be no analysis of Zuma's State of the Nation Address.

She said she called and cancelled the analyst 24 hours before Zuma's address and that they only covered reaction from political parties.

ALSO READ: SABC 8: By 2016, the capture of the SABC newsroom was almost complete...

On Wednesday, the commission also heard testimony from Krige.

He told the commission about editorial interference at the public broadcaster, labelling it a "toxic fear".

Krige said in February 2014, he was informed by then acting head of radio news Sebolelo Ditlhakanyane that they should not report on any activity of the EFF. 

He said it appeared to him that the directive came from Motsoeneng's office. 

"She said we had no choice because we had a directive," he said. 

He was also called into a meeting with then acting CEO Jimmy Matthews who allegedly told him that he should "obey" all the instructions from Ditlhakanyane. 

The hearing continues.

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