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Behave or go, says Hlaudi

SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng, speaks during a media briefing at the SABC head office in Auckland Park, after news that former SABC CFO James Aguma would take the role of acting group CEO following Jimi Matthews’s resignation. SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago in the background. Picture: Itumeleng English 28.06.2016

SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng, speaks during a media briefing at the SABC head office in Auckland Park, after news that former SABC CFO James Aguma would take the role of acting group CEO following Jimi Matthews’s resignation. SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago in the background. Picture: Itumeleng English 28.06.2016

Published Jun 29, 2016

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Johannesburg - Controversial SABC boss Hlaudi Motsoeneng has effectively told frightened employees to make peace with being dutiful lapdogs or walk out.

Motsoeneng, the chief operating officer, allegedly made these remarks during a staff meeting at the SABC headquarters in Auckland Park, Joburg, on Tuesday.

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“If you are at the SABC, there is leadership, and if the leadership says you must turn right, you must turn right. If you turn left, you must get off the bus,” Motsoeneng is alleged to have said.

An employee who spoke to Daily News sister newspaper, The Star, on condition of anonymity said: “He said he was going to charge people and discipline them. His tone was very harsh. He also said the three suspended journalists may survive the axe but those standing in solidarity with them may lose their jobs.”

Tuesday’s staff meeting followed Monday’s shock resignation of Jimi Matthews as the SABC’s acting group chief executive, who cited a corrosive atmosphere in the workplace for his decision.

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Another employee who attended the meeting said Motsoeneng told them to “do as we’re told, or we’re free to leave (the SABC’s employ)”.

SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago could not be reached for comment on Tuesday night.

After the staff meeting, Motsoeneng addressed a media briefing, saying: “We are going to deal with people decisively on disciplinary matters within the organisation. People are saying we are censoring, I don’t know what is censorship. Who is censoring who, because there is no censorship at the SABC?”

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Unperturbed, Motsoeneng also dismissed all the allegations against him and the public broadcaster, saying there was no internal revolt within the organisation as his employees were “happy and excited” about his leadership.

The SABC was running well, he said, while dismissing as a non-issue the SABC parliamentary journalist Lukhanyo Calata’s public rebuke that editorial decisions by his bosses bordered on censorship.

SABC board chairman Professor Mbulaheni Maguvhe also lashed out at detractors who wanted to derail the SABC from implementing its noble ideals, and heaped praise on Motsoeneng’s “sterling work” in turning the broadcaster’s fortunes around.

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Maguvhe also announced the organisation’s chief financial officer, James Aguma, as the acting group chief executive.

He wished Matthews well in his future endeavours and denied allegations of an internal revolt within the SABC, saying the corporation was stable and transforming.

Also on Tuesday, Communications Minister Faith Muthambi raised concern over Matthews’s resignation, describing it as “suspect”, while affirming her full confidence in the SABC board.

Muthambi’s spokesman Mishack Molakeng could not be reached to elaborate on what the minister meant by “suspect”.

Matthews’s resignation came after the suspension of three editorial staff: economics editor Thandeka Gqubule, Radio Sonder Grense executive editor Foeta Krige and senior journalist Suna Venter.

The trio, who have now taken the matter to the Constitutional Court, were sanctioned for defying Motsoeneng’s instruction not to report on a recent anti-censorship protest outside the SABC offices.

Motsoeneng maintained that no employees of the SABC were independent.

“Independent from who? Journalists are not independent; the organisation is independent. And we are not saying people should not debate robustly in the newsroom, but they need to respect the policies and leadership of the organisation.”

He then turned his focus on the print media, accusing it of being obsessed with him and asked probing questions about what the press really wanted from the SABC. “Why are you guys so much? Can you tell us what is your problem?”

He claimed there was an agenda to destabilise the public broadcaster, “and we are not going to allow that”.

Also challenging Motsoeneng’s protest-censorship stance was DA leader Mmusi Maimane, who led a protest march to the SABC’s Auckland Park headquarters yesterday and called on Motsoeneng to step down for curbing media freedom.

Maimane said the DA stood in solidarity with the suspended journalists, and that all political parties should gain access to the SABC and “not just the ANC”.

He criticised Motsoeneng’s decision not to show violent protests and destruction of public property on the news, saying: “We don’t want only good news on TV. Dictators know (you have to) capture the news to capture the country. We will continue to fight for press freedom.”

DA Joburg mayoral candidate Herman Mashaba said that what was happening at the SABC threatened the municipal elections on August 3 from being free and fair. “Our country’s future is at risk.”

Trade union Solidarity’s legal team has written to the SABC, giving the broadcaster until 3pm on Thursday to reinstate the suspended journalists in their posts or the union would “institute legal action, which may include an urgent application to the Labour Court”.

Motsoeneng allayed the fears and said the SABC would afford a platform to all political parties.

Meanwhile, the SACP said it would picket in support of the suspended journalists and those dismissed by Gupta-owned TV news channel ANN7. The party would call on the SABC to reverse the “draconian censorship of protest footage”, and failure to accede to its demands would be met with “rolling mass action in the form of marches”.

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