The petition that was signed by the SABC News division employees demanding the removal of newsroom enforcers has also revealed that the public broadcaster is planning to reduce the number of current affairs content offering on its 24-hour news channel.
The unhappy news division staff members have pinned this down to “lack of management skills from the top of the news division” and claim that “for five years there has been no performance agreements or an understanding of what the shows aim to achieve”.
The shows, which are described as the only “interactive” current affairs show on channel 404, are ‘Rights and Recourse’, a consumer rights content programme, and ‘Question Time’, a studio-based interview programme that has over the years hosted political heavyweights.
“However, teams have worked diligently to produce and broadcast these programmes. Suddenly and without professional and scientific rationale as well as consultation, programmes are being unilaterally pulled off air. Affected staff has been told to ‘slot’ themselves into other shows. These are important decisions which must be done according to administrative procedure i.e. in a consultative thus professional manner,” the petition said.
The staff members said with regards to ‘Rights and Recourse’, following a meeting with acting group executive (GE) of news Kenneth Makatees, they were told it would be removed from Channel 404 schedule as from March 31, 2018. “However, on Friday the 23rd of February 2018, the team was told that their last show would be broadcast on Sunday the 25th of February without a further clarity,” they claimed.
On ‘Question Time,’ the employees said in the six months that Makatees has been acting head of news, he “neglected to meet the executive producer about the programme’s performance. The executive producer had to hear from colleagues in the corridor about its cancellation before he was officially told by his line manager”.
“The market intelligence figures show that this programme is the highest performing on the platform, therefore the decision to cut it is surprising. However, it is worth noting that this programme has annoyed news management in the past with its editorial independence and refusal to accept illegal instructions.
“We demand that no show be taken off air until the newly appointed GE [Phathiswa Magopeni] can make her own decisions based on rationale and factual basis, informed by a news strategy, which has been consulted with the news staff. The SABC newsroom must be protected from personal vendettas and whims by some in management,” the petition continued.
Spokesperson for Broadcasting, Electronic, Media & Allied Workers Union (Bemawu) Hannes du Buisson told the Citizen they also believe “there are serious problems at the SABC which must be fixed as a matter of urgency”.
“We want to fix the SABC as soon as possible. The issues raised are currently standing in the way of retaining integrity so it can operate as a public broadcaster. A person who incorrectly spelled is now facing a disciplinary hearing. It is is ridiculous that implicated people are not facing similar action,” said Du Buisson.
Board chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini defended the decision to drop some of the programmes from the channel, and said the decision was based on the declining viewership. He said Phathiswa Magopeni, the newly appointed group executive of news, would be given an opportunity to implement changes.
“I am not defending management, but I am saying I will not tell them what to do. The calibre we are bringing into the organisation some people will not be happy because some people will not like changes,” said Makhathini.