Gauteng / 20 December 2019, 06:45am / SIHLE MAVUSO
Durban - After seeing their news channel facing an intense backlash from several quarters, eNCA journalists on Thursday demanded that action be taken against controversial news executive Kanthan Pillay.
The journalists wrote a letter to the channel’s news head, Jeremy Maggs.
The debacle is over Pillay’s alleged treatment of journalist Samkele Maseko who was “frog-marched” out of the eNCA building on Tuesday after he resigned.
In a series of tweets, Maseko said Pillay had told him to pack his things and leave immediately.
The matter escalated when Pillay appeared to refer to Maseko as a “rat” in a tweet he has since deleted.
In it, Pillay tweeted that rats were swimming towards a sinking ship, apparently in reference to Maseko, who is believed to be joining the SABC in the new year. In response, Maseko alleged that Pillay, who once ventured into politics as the leader of the Capitalist Party of South Africa, was behind acts of censorship.
He alleged that Pillay had wanted ANC MP Bongani Bongo’s comments about Minister Pravin Gordhan to be censored and also claimed that the channel pulled out from covering the EFF elective conference, not due to solidarity with media houses that were banned but because Pillay wanted to settle “political scores”.
In the letter, which Independent Media has seen, the journalists said the reputation of the channel had been brought into disrepute by Pillay’s behaviour.
They said since the scandal started, more than 50 000 tweets flooded in from South Africans and it was unsettling that questionable editorial decisions had been made.
“As reporters and anchors, we work hard and tirelessly, to uphold our journalistic ethics. We also take pride in our work, to ensure eNCA remains the number one news channel in this country. It’s therefore very distressing that one senior manager has been allowed to come into this newsroom and make decisions that raise doubt about our independence.” The letter did not specifically name Pillay.
The journalists also said going forward, they would like to have the right to question editorial decisions, especially when they affected their credibility and independence. They also called for journalist Khayelihle Khumalo to be reinstated with immediate effect.
Khumalo was allegedly suspended for tweeting about the EFF’s conference despite the eNCA’s decision to not cover the event.
Maseko has since indicated that he would reveal more information at South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef)’s media ethics inquiry, which is to be chaired by retired Judge Kathleen Satchwell working with veteran journalists, Nikiwe Bikitsha and Rich Mkhondo.
Sanef confirmed that Maseko would be appearing before the inquiry, which is expected to begin next year.
Pillay later apologised to Maseko after his alleged racist and bullying conduct drew flak from the public, celebrities and politicians.
On Thursday, he said: “I hereby express my unreserved apology to all that were offended by my irresponsible and ill-conceived statement on Twitter, posted on Tuesday”.
When asked if he accepted Pillay’s apology, Maseko said: “Kanthan has my number.”
While eNCA’s spokesperson, Lerato Maboi, did not respond to questions, a leaked internal letter written by Maggs to staff, showed that the matter was being investigated and the major focus was on the allegations of censorship by Pillay.