News / South Africa

Gosebo Mathope
3 minute read
23 Mar 2018
1:11 pm

Labour unions threaten SABC with legal action over ‘changes’ at news division

Gosebo Mathope

The union also demands that findings of an investigation into 'corruption at News Editing' be made public.

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) building. Picture: Tracy Lee Stark

Any changes SABC’s management and newly appointed head of news Phathiswa Magopeni plan to introduce at the public broadcaster’s news division unit may be scuppered by a legal action now being mulled by labour unions.

The Citizen has seen a letter of demand written to the SABC ‘management’ by one of the unions, Communications Workers Union (CWU). Representative Billy Matsitse in the letter said CWU “note with concern the challenges at news division, and we request your office facilitate an urgent meeting to address the issues”.

Some of the issues raised in the letter are similar to those raised by another union, the Broadcasting, Electronic, Media & Allied Workers Union (Bemawu), in which it also called upon the board to intervene in what they called a crisis brewing in the news division.

Bemawu contended that “enforcers” who should have been fired from the public broadcaster as per the recommendations of the parliamentary ad-hoc committee, such as senior reporter Sophie Mokoena, continued to compromise the editorial policy.

They also took issue with the senior presidential correspondent, Mzwandile Mbeje, without naming him, for failing to hold the executive and former president Jacob Zuma accountable during interviews.

READ MORE: SABC News employees petition board to remove ‘enforcers’

SABC Western Cape editor Kenneth Makatees, previously accused by Bemawu of sidelining and victimising dissenting voices in the newsroom who refuse to be factionalist, is once again in the line of fire, with CWU protesting that he continued to stay in Joburg although he was no longer required to be there, as his acting period as head of news had expired.

“Rumour is that he is earmarked to take over as head of the 24-hour news channel. Positions cannot be created for pals or individuals. We demand that Mr Maketees to immediately assume his position in Cape Town,” the letter stated.

“We note with concern the ‘turnaround’ at news without consultation of which it has impact on our members. Talent is brought in from our competitors, and what we see is that they bring their own personnel (crew or their own producers). What will happen to our technical people who have been performing such functions?” the letter continued.

MORE: SABC News petition: The broadcaster has no editorial integrity, is still pro-Zuma

Without going into detail, CWU also demanded to “understand the rationale behind the SAFM changes” and expressed a desire for the position of political editor to be transparent. “We know interviews happened, but Corporation decided otherwise and advertised externally. We want to know why is the SABC ignoring talent from within,” CWU demanded.

Another matter raised relates to “news technical personnel”. It is alleged that contracts of some employees were not renewed “during the Henley and News Technical merger”. The union also stated in the letter that it had previously requested an investigation of “corruption at News Editing” and were “requesting the findings”.

“As CWU, we feel that we need to act with speed and resolve the matters raised,” the letter concluded.

RELATED: SABC will drop ‘Rights and Recourse’ and ‘Question Time’ programmes

SABC spokesperson Kaiser Kganyago reminded The Citizen that this was “a matter between the unions and the employer [SABC]”.

“Those are the issues that they us want to engage them about. We would not engage with them via the media. But discussions will place directly between the unions, and we have an agreement between the unions.

“We are not going to pick out any of the issues and respond to them through the media. And also remember Mwasa [Media Workers Association of South Africa] is not recognised by the SABC, only the two unions have raised issues with the SABC,” Kganyago said.

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