Johannesburg - The SABC commission of inquiry into editorial interference has found that the public broadcaster has been crippled by the abuse of power which shifted focus from its editorial mandate.
Veteran journalist Joe Thloloe released the report on Monday and outlined how the commission found a culture of fear and anger during its investigation at the public broadcaster.
The commission was appointed to investigate editorial interference at the SABC following former COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s destructive reign at the organisation.
Thloloe said the investigation revealed that there was no direct line between Luthuli House, the governing ANC's headquarters, and the SABC over editorial coverage.
However, the inquiry did find the “spectre” of the ANC did hover in the SABC’s editorial decisions.
The inquiry found that from 2012 until 2017, SABC executives took instructions from people with no editorial authority, including from SABC board chairperson Ellen Tshabalala and former communications minister Faith Muthambi.
“The executives thus failed to execute their duties in terms of the Editorial Policies. The commission further found that Nothando Maseko, Sebolelo Ditlhakanyane and Nyana Molete were pivotal to the execution of instructions from Hlaudi Motsoeneng, Jimi Matthews and Simon Tebele. They succumbed because of threats of dismissal from their immediate superiors,” Thloloe said.
“Lastly, the designation of the GCEO or COO as Editor-In-Chief is not appropriate for the SABC because the circumstances of the corporation are different from those of the BBC, the model for the current structure.”
Key players in editorial interference, Motsoeneng and Matthews refused to make submissions to the commission and provide their side of the story.
As a remedy, the inquiry has recommended a string of instructions that should be implemented by the public broadcaster. Tlholoe said the instructions to human resources taken by Motsoeneng should be reviewed. Motsoeneng would often demand that HR hire, fire or discipline certain individuals.
“Human Resources must do an audit of the appointments, promotions or sideways shifts of senior news management, particularly Maseko, Ditlhakanyane and Charles Matlou. Where the records are found to be incomplete and the gap is not explained, the appointment/promotion must be reversed and the position re-advertised, with the person currently occupying it being invited to reapply,” Thloloe said.
Other recommendations include:
- That the group executive: news and current affairs should be designated as chair of the editorial policies and ethics committee of the group executive.
- The creation of a News and Current Affairs Advisory Committee consisting of at least three members – for example, a retired editor, a person who is or was teaching journalism ethics at a tertiary institution, and a retired judge.
- All newsroom staff, from the most junior to the most senior, to attend at least one workshop a year on the editorial policies, editorial ethics, the most recent rulings of the BCCSA, ICASA, the Press Council and the reports of the News and Current Affairs Advisory Committee.
- A review of the contracts of freelance workers is needed urgently, as these workers need to be a healthy window into the Corporation.
- Improved performance management - at the level of individuals as well as at that of programmes - is vital for the future health of the Corporation.
SABC board chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini said the board was deeply concerned about the findings on individual employees who were implicated in editorial interference.
While the Thloloe report recommended that there be no “witch-hunt for the enforcers” of the interference as it would not heal the corporation, Makhathini said the SABC would have no choice but to take action against those implicated.
“In this regard, the SABC commits to taking urgent disciplinary action against those implicated, in terms of the SABC’s disciplinary code and policies,” Mkhathini said.He said the report would help the institution deal with its unfortunate past.