The chairperson of the commission of inquiry into state capture, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, heard on Tuesday that the newsroom at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) was at some point in a serious state of decay.
This was relayed to Zondo by the head of news at the SABC, Phathiswa Magopeni, who said that when she joined the corporation, she found its newsroom in a serious state of disrepair and that “the newsroom was subdued” and that “something was bubbling underneath” and that it was operating on autopilot even though there were managers.
Magopeni added that the “nature” of the leadership “was not helpful” to the newsroom.
Journalists did not trust those in leadership roles, who did not command authority, Magopeni said, explaining that this was due to the journalists associating their seniors with a certain period of time when journalistic practices were shunned, Magopeni said.
The situation was a result of “a toxic combination” of both a lack of qualification by seniors and the lack of trust journalists had in them, she added.
Furthermore, there was a serious problem in terms of decision-making within the newsroom, with journalists used to receiving instruction and cautious not to take initiative, Magopeni said.
Among journalists, there was a lack of ownership with regards to stories, Magopeni said, adding that “people were walking on eggshells” and were not sure how to handle stories, especially political stories.
She said she also came to know that people within the SABC but outside of the newsroom, as well as people from outside the corporation, would some times call producers to give instructions, for example, to remove certain information on stories or leave information out or to not air some content.
“It is very abnormal for external parties to have access to the control room,” Magopeni said.
The credibility of the news content was compromised, Magopeni said, adding that journalists had a sense of shame in being employed by the SABC.
There was no mechanism in place to hold accountable those who had transgressed and to ensure adherence to the SABC’s policy, Magopeni said, adding in some situations employee were not aware that they had transgressed.
Furthermore, there was no way of measuring the performance of employees, which meant the necessary support could not be provided where there was a skills gap, Magopeni said.
Ahead of the lunch adjournment, she also gave testimony on how there was no “filtering mechanism” to determine whether freelancers were suitably qualified and that the freelancers were remunerated in a “subjective process at how these people are paid” because there was no grading system neither, with pay dependent “on who brought you there”.