Former SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng told the commission of inquiry into state capture that the suspension of a group of journalists known as the SABC 8, who were subsequently fired from the public broadcaster, had nothing to do with their refusal and failure to adhere to a decision he had taken to ban the broadcasting of violent and destructive protests.
The name was given to a group of eight journalists in 2016 when they spoke out against what they called “censorship” under the leadership of Motsoeneng.
Four of the journalists recently testified before commission chairperson, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, namely Foeta Krige, Krivani Pillay, Thandeka Gqubule-Mbeki, and Mwaba Phiri.
Motsoeneng told the commission on Wednesday that there were no consequences for journalists who failed to adhere to his decision.
“If people differ with you there can’t be consequences, it is normal for people to differ with you,” Motsoeneng said, adding that it would be incorrect to get rid of people who had dissenting views.
Motsoeneng said the disciplinary procedures instituted against the SABC 8 were because they had brought the public broadcaster into disrepute by speaking to the media, which was prohibited by the corporation’s policy.
“The same with me, I communicated with the media and I was chased away,” said Motsoeneng.
“It was not the visuals, it had nothing to do with the visuals.”
Motsoeneng further denied being involved in their suspension, adding that even the labour court had found that he was supposed to “overrule management” on the decision.
Zondo however, said the suspension letters made it clear that the suspension of the SABC 8 was due to their failure or refusal to comply with the instruction to ban the broadcasting of violent or destructive protests.
Motsoeneng admitted that on May 31, 2016, he summoned Krige and Pillay to a meeting to discuss the decision and provide clarity because it appeared as if management at the time was not communicating effectively.
Krige and Pillay testified that at the meeting, Motsoeneng had said: “We are cleaning up the organisation. People are doing their own stuff. There are many journalists outside that want to work for the SABC. The environment outside is bad. No person [within the SABC] is independent. The SABC is independent. This is the new SABC. You must adapt or find a job elsewhere.”
The two further testified that Motsoeneng added: “If people do not adhere, get rid of them. We cannot have people who question management … This is the last time we have a meeting of this kind.”
Motsoeneng admitted to uttering most of the statement as Krige and Pillay had recorded and testified before the commission.
However, he said he did not recall saying SABC staffers should “adapt”.
He further admitted that he had said the Sunday SA FM show The Editor’s Forum should be pulled from the air and that it had provided free advertising to newspapers, as Pillay had testified before Zondo.
Motsoeneng said he would have to jog his memory on whether he had actually said: “If people do not adhere, get rid of them.”
He told Zondo that it was not a secret that he had said he would transform the SABC by broadcasting content which was in the public interest.
Motsoeneng said he would have not fired the journalists for having an opposing view to his decision because he knew that was what journalists do.
He relayed to the chair an instance when the head of news at the time Simon Tebele had come to his office and said “hey, chief, there is blood on the floor” and that when he asked Tebele what he meant, he responded by saying “these people they are defying me”, referring to the journalists who did not want to comply to the ban.
Motsoeneng said he then told Tebele that as head of news, he should deal accordingly with those who reported to him.
“My disciplinary action, I was going to take it against Simon Tebele, not those people,” said Motsoeneng.