‘I know president Zuma but he is not my friend,’ Motsoeneng tells Zondo

The former COO admits he said Zuma should be given more time when covered by journalists but that it was because Zuma was the state president.

Former SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng told the chairperson of the commission of inquiry into state capture, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, that he knew former president Jacob Zuma “but he is not my friend”.

Motsoeneng was responding to testimony by Foeta Krige, one of the SABC 8 journalists who in 2016 spoke out against the former COO’s decision to ban the broadcasting of visuals of violent or destructive protests. The eight journalists were subsequently suspended then dismissed.

Krige had testified that during a workshop on covering elections, Motsoeneng had told SABC journalists that Zuma should be given more air time, should not be questioned, and should be respected, among other things.

Motsoeneng told Zondo that he did say this, explaining that what he wanted to convey was that Zuma should be respected as the president of the country and that considering that he was being called “names” at the time, journalists should mind their language because he was the sitting state president.

He further said that what he sought to highlight at the workshop was that coverage should differ when the subject of the story was the president of the ANC and when it was the president of the country and that the two should be kept separate.

Motsoeneng said the reason why he said Zuma should have been afforded more air time was because he was the president of the country and so needed to sufficiently respond to issues such as service delivery.

He said that as executive producer at the SABC, he had afforded former president Thabo Mbeki more time because he was the president at the time and that as a journalist he had done the same during the late Nelson Mandela’s tenure.

Motsoeneng told Zondo that he had difficulty responding to testimony by another SABC 8 journalist, Mwaba Phiri, who testified that when the former minister of communications, Faith Muthambi, effectively granted Motsoeneng control of the public broadcaster, he, the former COO, was feared and no one wanted to be in conflict with him.

Phiri had also testified that at the time the newsroom was abuzz with Motsoeneng’s close ties with Zuma and that it would have been an affront on the then COO to invite EFF leader Julius Malema for an interview.

“These people portray lies, in this commission and in the outside,” Motsoeneng said, also dismissing claims that he was feared, saying that at some point he was nicknamed “doctor”.

“I think they are just creating [a] vibe,” Motsoeneng said.

Motsoeneng also referred to testimony given by former SABC board chair, Dr Ben Ngubane on his cordial relations with labour unions representing workers at the SABC.

Watch the proceedings live courtesy of the SABC:

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