An independent inquiry into allegations of censorship and editorial interference at Primedia found that journalist Karima Brown had breached the provisions of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa’s (BCCSA) code. Speaking to News24, Brown said the report was “a cover-up”.
Brown lodged the complaint, two days after her contract as host of the Karima Brown Show on Talk Radio 702 lapsed, against her former station manager Thabisile Mbete.
The allegations stemmed from an episode of the show that was aired in November last year. They revolved around a Competition Commission of South Africa report, which the commission had filed with the Competition Tribunal.
The report, compiled by Terry Motau SC, concerned a supply chain agreement between MultiChoice and the SABC.
During the show, Brown spoke about five people who, after the show, said the comments made about them were unfair.
The five included former spokesperson for the SABC Neo Momodu, former SABC board member Mathatha Tsedu, veteran journalist Joe Thloloe, Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe, and MultiChoice CEO Calvo Mawela.
Brown spoke about their employment history and employers, and created links between their dealings with MultiChoice and the SABC, adding Mawela was also Mantashe’s son-in-law.
According to the report, she said to her guest: “So, MultiChoice is, in fact, a player, a referee, an arbitrator and people move between organisations. Does it not concern you that MultiChoice essentially has all the pieces on the chessboard and can make all the moves?”
Later Brown added: “Of course, you cannot blame people for who they marry and in which families they marry, but these links are insidious so they are not to be ignored, because we know how power works, it does not always manifest itself in formal minutes, in memos, in paper trails.”
Both Brown and former station manager Thabisile Mbete received complaints from some of the people who claimed they had not received a right of reply. As a result, a meeting was called between the two and senior role players at Primedia.
After the meeting, the report said, Brown was instructed to offer those mentioned a right of reply and invite them onto the show.
While this was done, the report stated: “It is the above events, ie the meeting to discuss the show and the instruction to offer a right of reply to the individuals concerned, that Ms Brown contends constituted censorship and editorial interference.”
The inquiry found that the criticism of the five people breached the BCCSA code in terms of comment, controversial issues of public importance as well as privacy, dignity and reputation.
“While it clearly was Ms Brown’s right to comment on the commission’s report as an event of public importance, her adverse mention of the five individuals was in my view not protected comment.
“This is because the facts underlying the comment were not true,” the report said.
“Indeed, Ms Brown put up no evidence in her interviews with the panel that any of the five individuals had engaged in any wrongdoing, or would do so, in the context of the MultiChoice/SABC deal, or at all. She was of the view that the factual links by themselves created questions for the audience to answer.
“Presenters are of course at liberty to leave questions for the audience to answer, but must then take the risk that reasonable listeners will reach a defamatory or adverse conclusion about the individuals, given the context in which their names are mentioned.”
Speaking to News24, Brown said the report was “a cover-up”.
“The report is a cover-up by 702 because it had the opportunity to [institute disciplinary action] when the complaint was laid against me by my station manager. I was never informed about any disciplinary action, and I was never informed about the reasons why management did not discipline me. I only found this out when the inquiry was on,” she added.