Johannesburg - The Zondo commission has heard testimony about former SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng's unrelenting attempts to interfere with the public broadcaster's editorial mandate, going as far as banning analysis.
The inquiry on Thursday saw the testimony of SABC employees who were known as the “SABC 8”.
First on the stand was Krivani Pillay, an executive producer at SA FM, who told the inquiry how her radio show The Editors was canned 48 hours after Motsoeneng became a topic of discussion on the show.
Pillay explained that days before the show aired Motsoeneng had taken the controversial decision to ban the airing of violent protests from SABC programmes. She said the decision was discussed on The Editors, a media programme that discusses the industry.
Pillay said 48 hours after the insert aired, she and a colleague Jakob Krige were called into a meeting with Motsoeneng. The meeting was attended by other SABC executives including Jimmi Mattews who was the acting CEO at the time.
Pillay said Motsoeneng did not hold back and immediately berated her for the decision to allow for the programme’s guests to discuss his decision to change SABC policy.
“Forty-eight hours after the Sunday programme Mr Motsoeneng was aggrieved that the programme criticised his decision because callers that had come in on the programme wondered about the merits of such a decision.”
“Chair, the programme was cancelled immediately. It was awful. It was the lowest point of my career. I felt embarrassed, I felt like I let the team down. He wouldn’t listen to anything, he wouldn’t even entertain my question in the meeting. It didn’t sit well with me at all. I've had sleepless nights ever since. Nothing made sense at the time,” she said.
“When somebody says I am going to ban this [airing protest footage] weeks before the elections, how else do you interpret that, chair? For me it was already the start of a capture,” Pillay said.
She said Motsoeneng made it clear that he was in charge and that those would not align to demands could leave and other journalists would be willing to replace them.
Pillay quoted Motsoeneng saying; "We are cleaning up the organisation. People are doing their own stuff. There are many journalists outside who want to work for the SABC. The environment outside is bad; no person within the SABC is independent. You must adapt or find a job somewhere else."
Pillay said she had to deal with angry listeners who blamed her for the show being cancelled. She was bullied about this on social media and through written emails.
Another example of Motsoeneng’s reign of terror was when he banned the airing of analysis following president Jacob Zuma’s state of the nation address in 2016.
Another SABC producer Mwaba Phiri also took the stand. He told the commission about the fear that his team had to invite former public protector Thuli Madonsela. Madonsela had issued reports on the state of the SABC. He said they had to be discrete when organising the interview.
"I knew that the interview would come to nought as soon as my line manager (Themba Mthembu) and other top editorial management staff came to know we had done it,” Phiri said.