It was supposed to have been a simple press conference informing the public why they had pulled the plug on a controversial documentary on President Thabo Mbeki.

But Dali Mpofu, CEO of the SABC, did not expect Redi Direko and Ben Cashdan, the producers of the unauthorised Mbeki documentary, to show up at the press conference and challenge him.

There were several heated exchanges between Mpofu and the producers.

Mpofu called a press conference at the SABC headquarters in Auckland Park, Johannesburg, on Wednesday to "set the record straight" on why the broadcaster refused to air an unauthorised documentary on Mbeki on May 17.

The documentary, one of nine commissioned by the SABC on famous South Africans, was produced by independent film-makers Broad Daylight Films. The SABC has come in for severe criticism recently after reports emerged that there could have been political interference in the decision not to screen the documentary.

During the press conference, Mpofu slammed Cashdan for going to the media and commenting about the SABC's decision not to air the documentary, saying it was a breach of the contract signed between them.

According to the agreement which Mpofu said all production companies are required to sign with the SABC, producers are not allowed to divulge any information about a production to third parties.

He said Cashdan had initiated a media campaign to prove that there was a political hand behind the SABC's decision to withdraw the documentary.

"Due to the behaviour of the producers, who have seen fit to conduct a media campaign aided and abetted by right-wing organisations and some like-minded fellow travellers, as well as the post-withdrawal opinion of our external attorneys, the matter is now more complicated and the SABC will have to take a fresh decision as to the fate of the documentary," he said.

Mpofu did not rule out the possibility that legal action might be taken against Broad Daylight Films for breaching the contract and speaking to the media.

He said editorial staff had initially decided to withhold the documentary on the advice of their lawyers because it made several defamatory statements against the president that might not have stood up in court.

Mpofu said that contrary to media reports, they did not "gag" the documentary but had in fact commissioned it.

"When we did the list (on who should be profiled), we insisted that Thabo Mbeki be included. You don't do this to a sitting president, and if we were so scared of 'big brother Mbeki', as the media suggested, we would not have. We had more than the stomach to do it," he said.

But Direko challenged Mpofu for singling out Cashdan, saying she had asked Broad Daylight Films for help because she was inexperienced in tackling such documentaries.

She said that with regard to talking to the media, she was fielding calls from journalists two minutes after the documentary was supposed to have aired because the SABC had advertised that it was going to screen it.

Cashdan told Mpofu that one of the SABC editors had called him the day after the documentary was supposed to have been aired and said she was disappointed that it did not go ahead and that the decision on whether to run with the documentary had been taken out of her hands.

This made him think there might have been a political motive for withdrawing the film.