The rot in SA's newsrooms
Pillay, a founding member of the Capitalist Party of South Africa, who was fired by the news channel on Friday after a run-in with the station’s former political reporter, Samkele Maseko, had been there for less than four months.
Since his departure, former employees have spoken out how difficult it was to work with him. Further piling pressure on the channel was how it employed a political figure to head a division where political bias should be eliminated at all costs.
eNCA said it parted ways with Pillay because allegations of censorship.
Political analyst Xolani Dube, of Xubera Institute, said Pillay’s employment, while questionable, was not new.
He cited several previous questionable employment of people in newsrooms who were politicians or had strong political leanings. Dube said prominent examples include the late Zwelakhe Sisulu, an ANC activist who once edited SABC TV news and later became the corporation’s chief executive.
He said in the newsroom was Snuki Zikalala, an ANC man who shot to fame by blacklisting analysts who were not in the pro-Thabo Mbeki camp ahead of the ANC’s 2007 Polokwane conference.
Zikalala is now the president of the ANC Veterans’ League.
He also pointed to the employment of JJ Tabane by 24-hour news channel Newzroom Afrika to host talk show Your View. Tabane is former spokesperson of the Congress of the People and adviser to former party parliamentary leader Mvume Dandala.
According to Dube, figures with party links are employed to pursue an ideology that benefits the ruling elite.
“These institutions represent a particular class and particular interests. So, they can’t give someone space to go and discredit their interests.
“The capture of newsrooms is still there and we are not going to root it out,” Dube said.
Echoing Dube, another analyst, Thabani Khumalo from Durban, said the compromising patterns of employing politicians or people whose political leanings were likely to result in editorial breaches like political impartiality was not new.
He said that started during the apartheid era, spilt over to the democratic era in the mid-1990s, but it was later done in a subtle way when it became clear that it was not ideal for democracy and the media as a watchdog.
Khumalo said that during apartheid the media was infiltrated by politicians in order to control narratives.
After 1994 Khumalo said it was done under the guise of transforming newsrooms, which were mainly white.
“This issue of Pillay reminds us that once somebody leaves the newsroom and joins politics, it is wrong to accept him back to the newsroom.
“It compromises the ethics of journalism. It is more wrong for this guy to be given a controlling position in the newsroom knowing very well that he was in politics and taking certain sides,” he said.
Khumalo insisted that it was wrong for politicians to be allowed into newsrooms in the first place.