Our Victories for the SABC 8 Must be Extended to All Media Workers
Since we launched the campaign to Save our SABC on Black Friday which was on 1 July 2016, we at the SOS Coalition have been consistent in our six demands to catalyse the turn-around of the SABC which has been in crisis for ten years, since the emergence of the 2006 blacklisting scandal.
These demands included:
- The immediate and unconditional lifting of the suspension of SABC journalists facing disciplinary action for being brave citizens and refusing to undermine the credibility and integrity of our SABC.
- The protection of workers from arbitrary action by SABC management. Workers’ rights must be guaranteed.
- That the SABC’s illegally revised editorial policies be scrapped, and all journalists suspended under Motsoeneng’s edict be reinstated with immediate effect.
- The immediate reversal of all downward editorial decisions premised on the unlawfully revised editorial policy.
- That Motsoeneng is sacked from the SABC, in keeping with the Public Protector’s recommendations and the Western Cape High Court’s judgment which found his appointment to be “irrational” and, therefore, unlawful in the first place.
- That Faith Muthambi is sacked from the Ministry of Communications for her delinquency in ensuring that the SABC complies with the letter and spirit of the law as she undertook to do in her oath of office.
In the last month, we have been able to secure some symbolic victories in respect of these demands. These have included:
- The SABC’s settlement with the Helen Suzman Foundation, last week, in which it agreed to withdraw the unlawful and unconstitutional editorial directives issued by Mr Hlaudi Motsoeneng and enforced by General Manager: Radio News and Current Affairs, Sebolelo Dithlakane, and Acting Group Executive: News and Current Affairs, Simon Tebele.
- An order by the self-same court directing the enforcers of these unlawful and anti-democratic editorial directives to show cause why they should not personally be held liable for all or part of the costs of the case;
- The SABC’s catastrophic loss in the Labour Court on Tuesday, and its withdrawal of its void and unlawful summary dismissal of seven of the SABC 8, resulting in their welcome back to work, this morning.
- The Labour Court’s award of costs to the SABC 8, credit must be given to Solidarity and the Broadcasting and Electronic Media and Allied Workers’ Association (BEMAWU) for securing this win.
These symbolic victories have secured us two of our six demands.
Important as they have been, we call these victories only “symbolic” because in light of the SABC’s conduct, and under the direction of Mr Motsoeneng in particular, the national public broadcaster has demonstrated its lack of respect of the rule of law and democratic and constitutional values which should underpin the delivery of public broadcasting services to the overwhelming majority of the people of South Africa who depend on the SABC for their news and information services. In particular, we have already received reports of the SABC’s failure to create the conditions for the substantive realisation of the order secured by the Helen Suzman Foundation as a direct result of the chilling effect of self-censorship Mr Motsoeneng has successfully established at the SABC. This chilling effect of self-censorship has created uncertainty for SABC media workers, not least of which is included the unlawfully dismissed SABC 8 workers who returned to work, this morning, concerning whether and how to cover local government protests and other conflicts of national importance in the run up to next week’s local government elections. Much still needs to be done to rescue the SABC from self-censorship and undue political and commercial influence.
In this regard, and not forgetting that Vuyo Mvoko is yet to to be reinstated, we have some way to go yet in addressing the four outstanding demands:
- There still remains no guarantee for the protection of workers from arbitrary action by SABC management such as the SABC 8 have been subjected to;
- The unlawfully revised and illegal editorial policies adopted by the SABC Board, which designate Mr Motsoeneng as the SABC’s editor-in-chief and make him the alpha and omega of the national public broadcasters editorial voice through instruments such as mandatory upward referral remain in full force and effect;
- Mr Motsoeneng continues to report to work as COO at the SABC, in spite of multiple Court Orders declaring his appointment as irrational and unlawful; and
- The Minister of Communications who has been manifestly and substantially delinquent in discharging her duties of oversight of the SABC to ensure its compliance with the Broadcasting and other relevant Acts and Regulations continues to remain in her post.
Our concerns, however, are not limited only to the SABC. We note with grave concern the emergence of similar patterns of censorship, unfair labour practices as well as racism in the privately owned media. Amidst the frenzy of the current manifestation of the decade-long SABC crisis, we cannot forget workers in the privately owned media. In ANN7, for example, nine workers – the so-called ANN7 9 – remain out of work battling their unfair dismissals at the privately owned broadcaster. There are also resounding complaints of censorship by their bosses and unfair labour practices including unfair racial discrimination against Black workers. This too is an affront to the hard-won constitutional guarantee to a free and independent media which, as Nelson Mandela rightly characterised it, is the lifeblood of our constitutional democracy.
On the issue of racism, we are resolute that every media organisation has an obligation to eradicate racist practices, including by its managers. Further, media workers must be allowed their constitutional right to freely associate, including joining unions. To this end, we are saying it is clear that South African journalists and media freedom are under attack. We are resolute that as citizens of a democratic society, we cannot allow illegal practices in our workplaces. The struggle of the SABC 8, the ANN7 9 and all media workers must necessarily also be our struggle, and news managers who pander to private interests that have nothing to do with our job descriptions must be named and shamed.
We have, therefore, begun the process of establishing the SABC 8 Fund for the Protection of Journalists because journalists across the board, be it in public or privately owned media are facing similar challenges of exploitation, the denial of freedom of expression, the space to do their work freely and in good faith, and be free of racism in the workplace. It is an indictment on this society that people whose work is to play the watchdog role on behalf of the people of South Africa are being subjected to these kinds of unfair practices. We therefore call on journalists and the people of south Africa to unite and reject this scourge of anti-democratic practices and human rights abuses in the media.
For more information, please contact:
076 084 8077