Phathiswa Magopeni insists there was political interference, 'bullying' at SABC news

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Phathiswa Magopeni
Phathiswa Magopeni
PHOTO: Moeletsi Mabe, Gallo Images, Sunday Times
  • Sacked SABC news boss Phathiswa Magopeni maintains there was political interference ahead of the local government elections.
  • She accuses group CEO Madoda Mxakwe and board chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini of trying to bully her.
  • Magopeni says she never asked Mxakwe to help in securing an interview with ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa.

Sacked SABC news head Phathiswa Magopeni maintains that she was targeted because she resisted political and editorial interference in the newsroom.

Magopeni said this in a statement responding to SABC group chief executive Madoda Mxakwe and board chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini. The two had written statements in response to the grievance Magopeni laid against Mxakwe last year.

In the latest statement, Magopeni sticks to her guns that Mxakwe and Makhathini interfered in editorial matters when they tried to persuade her to air an interview with ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa ahead of the local government elections.

She also denies that she had ever asked Mxakwe to help in securing an interview with Ramaphosa.

She said: 

All I did was to report to him as my line manager that whenever we tried to secure an interview with him, it got cancelled. Even when it was raised at the Board’s News and Editorial Committee, it was purely feedback on our unsuccessful attempts to secure an interview with the State President.

"...Mr Mxakwe knows that the irregular interview he voluntarily coordinated had nothing to do with the State President or anything related to SABC News’ difficulty in securing it. Even if he wanted to, SABC News and Editorial Policy prohibits him from doing so, and I would not have allowed it."

She further accused Makhathini of wanting to use her and the SABC news to influence matters in the AmaZulu Royal House. After King Zwelithini died, there was infighting in the royal house regarding his successor.

"Mr Makhathini’s premise was that media coverage of the royal family’s succession battle was one-sided and he mentioned one media house as an example. He said the story of what he called 'the other side' of the family was not being told. What followed was an explanation of how King Misuzulu kaZwelithini was not fit to lead AmaZulu. He said he himself was among those not pleased."

She said Makhathini had sent her messages and video clips about Prince Misuzulu’s "problem" and Prince Thokozani’s contact details.

Breaking point

"Out of respect for King Misuzulu kaZwelithini, I will not divulge the exact nature of the problem as it is sensitive and journalistically has neither counter-evidence nor proof," Magopeni said.

"Mr Makhathini was not a source as he claims, but an active player in the story and he sought to use my relationship with him to get SABC News to drive his efforts to influence the royal family’s succession battles."

She said the breaking point in her relationship with Mxakwe happened after she did an interview on Morning Live in October and spoke about editorial interference. After the interview, Magopeni said, Mxakwe raised the issue of the aired interdicted Special Assignment programme.

She said: 

As I have come to know him, whenever I stood my ground when we had serious disagreements on organisational matters, he would accuse me of abuse, and this was meant to control and silence me. But the message he sent me saying, 'It stops here', was the breaking point and a premeditated dismissal by my line manager. It was an indication that Mr Mxakwe would never work with me again. All that followed in that grossly flawed disciplinary process was to effect my dismissal at whatever cost.

She said both Mxakwe and Makhathini had bullied her.

"They both pressured and bullied me without success into approving the unplanned interview and bypass stipulated editorial processes. The same bullying comes through in their responses to my grievance."

Last November, Magopeni was charged with misconduct after an interdicted Special Assignment episode was erroneously aired. She was taken to a disciplinary hearing headed by advocate Nazeer Cassim, who found her guilty.

Magopeni had claimed that political interference underpinned the charges against her.

She was fired last month and had indicated she would challenge her dismissal at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

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