8411 2010.6.18 Flags and patriotism at the SABC, Auckland Park, Joburg. Picture: Cara Viereckl

Cape Town - The Democratic Alliance has asked Intelligence Inspector General Faith Radebe to investigate allegations that the State Security Agency (SSA) is spying on SABC journalists and support staff.

The allegations were made by Broadcast, Electronic Media, and Allied Workers’ Union (Bemawu) president Hannes Du Buisson, DA spokesman Gavin Davis said in a statement on Sunday.

According to Du Boisson, SSA personnel instructed SABC employees in Durban to leave their offices and spent between two and three hours per office for a purpose unknown to the employees, he said.

SABC employees were instructed to keep quiet about this and were threatened with action should they tell anybody, and SABC employees feared that secret surveillance equipment was installed in their offices.

Davis said that when asked to confirm or deny the allegation, a SSA spokesperson appeared to confirm it with a rather sinister response: “The SABC should explain to its employees what it is that the SABC itself has done in the past which might have involved an agency like ours.”

It seemed that the SSA failed to understand that the SABC was an independent public broadcaster protected by the Constitution. This meant that SABC journalists and support staff should be free to report the news without being intimidated by intelligence operatives.

“We know that SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng is paranoid about so-called ‘leaks’ from concerned whistle-blowers at the SABC,” Davis said.

In November, when the DA released a document that revealed former board chairwoman Ellen Tshabalala had extended Motsoeneng’s power to act as CEO, Motsoeneng summoned staff members to a meeting.

“The DA is reliably informed that Motsoeneng accused staff members of leaking documents, before threatening that the culprits would be found and immediately dismissed.”

Following the meeting, the SABC’s forensic unit began an investigation in which staff laptops were seized in an attempt to find evidence of the “leak”.

“It was around this time that Motsoeneng sent a letter to the DA accusing us of illegally obtaining confidential SABC documents and ‘condoning the misconduct by some SABC employees who continue to steal information from the SABC’.”

Given this culture of paranoia, the DA suspected that the presence of spooks at the SABC had nothing to do with state security, and everything to do with Motsoeneng’s own insecurity.

“It goes without saying that whistleblowing is a legitimate practice in the fight against corruption. It is certainly not a valid reason for state intelligence officials to spy on SABC employees.

“Indeed, the State Security Agency’s mandate specifically excludes ‘lawful political activity, protest, activism, and dissent’, as set out in the amended National Strategic Intelligence Act, 1994.”

The DA therefore asked Radebe to investigate whether or not SSA officials were engaged in surveillance of SABC journalists and support staff, and If so, whether or not the SSA had a legitimate reason for spying on SABC journalists and support staff.

She should also investigate whether the request for the SSA involvement emanated from the SABC itself, Davis said.

The public broadcaster should be a bastion of transparency, where journalists and support staff were free to ply their craft and free to speak out against power abuse.

“Instead, the SABC is being turned into a place where employees fear speaking out against management and feel constrained in what they can and cannot report on.

“We trust that the inspector general of intelligence will play her part in eradicating the culture of fear of paranoia that pervades the SABC, Davis said.