Letter to the SABC Board and the Chief Operating Officer
During the past year, the Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF) has come across several instances of government officials being placed under intolerable pressure and hounded out for doing their jobs in conformity with the law. This undermines the integrity of public administration and destroys state capacity, needed both for the protection of South Africans and the development of the country.
We are particularly appalled at two communications within the SABC, both of which are in the public realm. The first is a memorandum from three senior employees to the Chief Operating Officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, and dated 26 June 2016. It contains the following passage:
…we feel aggrieved that the image of our institution and our journalistic integrity continues to be compromised by unconstitutional pronouncements that erode the credibility of the SABC and the journalistic integrity of all of us who work for it. Furthermore, we wish to register our deep concern for our colleagues who have been suspended for expressing their right to freedom of expression by simply debating the newsworthiness of events as expected, during editorial meetings.
The second is a letter of resignation from the Acting Group CEO, Jimi Matthews in which he states:
…the prevailing corrosive atmosphere has impacted negatively on my moral judgement and has made me complicit in many decisions which I am not proud of…What is happening at the SABC is wrong and I can no longer be part of it.
The HSF regards the integrity of the SABC as essential at all times, and particularly in the lead up to elections. We have today written to the Board and the Chief Operating Officer stating our view that a list of eight actions by the SABC would be unconstitutional and unlawful. These actions are set out in our letter, which we are posting on our website along with this statement.
We have called upon the SABC to provide the HSF with a written undertaking by16:00 on Thursday, 30 June 2016, that it will desist from these actions, failing which, the HSF will seek urgent relief from Court.
See a copy of the letter on our website below (and here in PDF).
Text of the letter:
The Board: South African Broadcasting Corporation SOC Ltd
Cnr. Artillery and Henley Rd,
South Africa 2092 .
Att: Professor Mbulaheni
Chief Operating Officer: South African Broadcasting Corporation SOC Ltd
South African Broadcasting Corporation SOC Ltd ("SABC"): coverage of protests in South Africa
1. We represent the Helen Suzman Foundation ("HSF").
2. We refer to media statements of the SABC dated 26 and 27 May 2016, relating to the coverage by the SABC of protests in South Africa and the SABC's policy in this regard (collectively, "the statements and policy"). We also refer to the implementation, and expansion, of the statements and policy by the SABC since that time.
3. The statements and policy and SABC's implementation and expansion of the statements and policy have resulted in an impermissible restriction on access to information which is critical to the public. Further, the SABC's actions infringe, unjustifiably, upon numerous Constitutional rights, including but not limited to the right of freedom of expression in alliance with > Li n klaters
4. The HSF is of the view that the statements and policy, or adoption or giving effect to any decision, policy, guidelines or instruction which would require the following events (listed in 4.1.1 to 4.1.8 below) not to be broadcast, reported upon, covered, publicised, disseminated to the public or afforded media coverage (or to be covered only partially without visuals) ("the relevant decisions") are unconstitutional and unlawful:
4.1.1 any peaceful or violent protest or demonstration which includes damage to public institutions and/or public or private property;
4.1.2 any peaceful or violent protest or demonstration against service delivery;
4.1.3 any peaceful or violent protest or demonstration against the statements and policy;
4.1.4 any peaceful or violent protest or demonstration against government; any organ of state or a public body, at any level (local, municipal, provincial, regional or national);
4.1.5 any protest, demonstration, commentary or news piece which portrays, or has the potential to portray:
22.214.171.124 government and any organ of state (at any level); or
126.96.36.199 any political leader or government employee or officer, including a member of the National Executive in a negative light;
4.1.6 any politically motivated protest or demonstration (whether violent or peaceful);
4.1.7 any events or actions (including violent or peaceful protest or demonstration) that reflects, or may reflect, any political party or politician in a negative light;
4.1.8 any events or actions (including violent or peaceful protest or demonstration) that reflect, or may reflect, negatively upon the President of the Republic of South Africa.
5. The SABC is called upon to provide the HSF with a written undertaking, by no later than 16:00 on Thursday, 30 June 2016, that it will desist from implementing the statements and policy or the relevant decisions, failing which the HSF may be forced to exercise its rights in law without delay.
Statement issued by Francis Antonie, Director, Helen Suzman Foundation, 29 June 2016