'My SABC hell' journalist turns the tables
Johannesburg - South Africa's most prominent TV journalist penned an article for Independent Media detailing the extent of censorship, bullying and intimidation at the SABC.
Now he's taking the public broadcaster to court to protect his freelance contract, which the SABC has all but ended in retaliation for the article.
Vuyo Mvoko believes the broadcaster was incorrect to have pulled him off the air because he wrote an article,”My SABC hell”, published by The Star and on IOL earlier this month.
In court papers seen by The Star, Mvoko argues that this was a breach of his “independent contractor agreement” with the corporation.
The article followed a public storm over censorship at the broadcaster, which has resulted in seven journalists losing their jobs, and the SABC being hauled before the Labour Court, the high court in Pretoria, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) and now the high court in Joburg. A Constitutional Court challenge is also pending.
The public broadcaster ended Mvoko's services earlier this month, arguing that the article was a violation of his contract and had brought the SABC into disrepute.
But in papers to be filed to the high court in Joburg on Monday, Mvoko turns the tables and accuses the SABC of being in breach of his three-year contract, signed last April.
Mvoko was told in a letter on July 7, the day after the article was published, that management was considering terminating the agreement, and that until the matter was resolved, his services would not be scheduled.
“I am advised that the refusal to schedule’ me was and is a continuing breach of the agreement. There is nothing in the agreement permitting the SABC to refuse to schedule me on the basis set out in the... letter,” he contends in the documents.
His lawyers told the SABC days after he received the letter that he could not be in breach of the contract as he had not brought the organisation into disrepute or hurt its reputation.
“I stated what is plainly obvious to anyone following the events at the SABC - that the SABC’s name is already in disrepute and damaged, not by me, but by its own decisions and actions to ban broadcasting of violent protests, which acts amount to censorship,” the document reads.
“In making the point in my article that censorship is unlawful and wrong, I was merely pointing out what every citizen had concluded about the SABC’s conduct. I am advised that my article could not have brought into disrepute an institution that had, by its conduct, already brought itself into disrepute.”
His lawyers also contend that a journalist's reflections on the goings-on at an important public institution cannot be classified as bringing it into disrepute.
He also emphasises he did not criticise the SABC as an institution, and was in fact concerned about the broadcaster's welfare under the direction of three former and current managers - former head of news Snuki Zikalala, former head of TV news Jimi Matthews and chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng.
He also points out that Icasa had ruled on July 11 that the SABC had acted illegally by banning visuals of violent protest. On Wednesday, the high court in Pretoria agreed with the regulator and ordered management to lift the ban.
On this basis, Mvoko asked to be scheduled again, but the SABC has stuck to its guns and refused to put him on air or use his services in any way. By continuing to do so, he argues, the broadcaster is in violation of his contract.