The SABC has placed its group chief executive of news, Phil Molefe, on special leave after he apparently defied his senior executives’ orders to stop giving too much air time to the ANC’s enfant terrible, Julius Malema.
Molefe allegedly refused to obey orders given to him by SABC CEO Lulama Mokhobo and the acting chief operating officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, this week.
The Star understands that the root of the conflict was Molefe’s decision to give full coverage to rallies which were addressed by the expelled ANC Youth League president Malema.
The rallies were in Tzaneen and at Wits University – where Malema accused president Jacob Zuma of being a dictator.
Malema addressed the ANC centenary rally in Tzaneen along with ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe, while at Wits he was with ANC treasurer Mathews Phosa.
At the Limpopo rally, ANC supporters were seen wearing T-shirts emblazoned with Motlanthe’s image.
The T-shirts clearly displayed the divisions affecting the ruling party ahead of its elective conference in Mangaung in December.
Malema’s comments at the Wits rally forced the basis for the ANC national disciplinary committee under Derek Hanekom to suspend his membership of the ANC, his presidency of the ANC Youth League and his membership of the ANC’s Limpopo provincial executive committee member.
According to a source, Mokhobo and Motsoeneng allegedly went to Molefe’s office and demanded that he hand over his editorial diary to them.
Molefe allegedly refused to hand over his diary to Motsoeneng, saying it was against the public broadcaster’s editorial policy.
“This happened after the CEO complained that President Jacob Zuma was not getting enough coverage on TV.
The two also complained about a one on one interview Malema had on TV which attracted the highest viewership of the SABC in the past four years.
“The CEO is under pressure from people who appointed her. They believe that the SABC is back to the pre-Polokwane era when the chief executive, news, Snuki Zikalala, gave more coverage to Thabo Mbeki,” the source said.
Molefe would also be remembered for having fired the former SABC political editor, Xolani Xundu, after being accused of poorly handling the coverage of the ANC’s national general council in Durban in September 2010.
Xundu was fired on January 13 last year. At the time, insiders believed that Molefe was on the move to purge editors who were appointed by Zikalala.
One of the victims of the purge was the late Amrit Manga, who was made economics editor. Manga died earlier this month.
SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago confirmed that Molefe had been placed on special leave pending a discussion between him and Mokhobo. Kganyago emphasised that the special leave was just for that purpose and nothing else.
The Star understands that Mokhobo and Motsoeneng called a staff meeting yesterday morning and announced Molefe’s special leave to them.
This is the second time Molefe has been placed on special leave. He was initially placed on special leave in January, until March.
Jimi Mathews was placed in an acting position then. This week Mathews was once again made acting group chief executive of news, where he is reportedly earning a salary of R1.7 million.