Probe into SABC exposes editorial interference

Joe Thloloe and SABC board chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini at a commission of inquiry into editorial interference at the public broadcaster./Veli Nhlapo
Joe Thloloe and SABC board chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini at a commission of inquiry into editorial interference at the public broadcaster./Veli Nhlapo

Former SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng ordered journalists in KwaZulu-Natal to drive on a rainy day to meet Ladysmith Black Mambazo's Joseph Shabalala against the wishes of his family.

This was revealed in a report released by veteran journalist Joe Thloloe on editorial interference at the SABC.

The reports showed that there was a lot of interference by executives, board members and some politicians.

In one incident, KwaZulu-Natal provincial editor Busani Mthembu told the inquiry led by Thloloe that the newsroom was following up on Shabalala's health condition.

Mthembu said he spoke to a family member who told him the family wished the media would give Shabalala a break and peace.

But the Johannesburg office ordered Mthembu to send a team to Shabalala's house in Ladysmith because Motsoeneng was also going there.

Mthembu tried to argue that family had asked for privacy but was told to send a team because former president Jacob Zuma was visiting Shabalala.

Mthembu called Bongani Majola in the president's office who also advised that the team should not be sent because the family had asked for privacy. But when Mthembu informed the Johannesburg office he was again told these were instructions from Motsoeneng.

"It was raining, the visibility was very poor. Ladysmith is quite a distance from here [Durban], about three hours. There was fog, it was so bad. The team arrived there at about 10 in the evening. The family could not talk to the team and it took Motsoeneng or someone who was with him to persuade them to talk to us."

The report follows an inquiry established by the SABC in May last year after irregularities were identified by the public protector, an ad-hoc committee of parliament and complaints lodged with the Independent Communications Authority of SA.

Thloloe found the SABC suffered from "capricious" use of authority and power to terrorise staff and deflect the broadcaster from its mandate and editorial policies.

SABC chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini welcomed the report, saying it would be considered when the broadcaster finalises its editorial policy by the end of September.

Motsoeneng, however, dismissed it as "nonsensical" and said Thloloe had been appointed by a "useless board".

"I don't see any value in that report. What I have stood for in the past, I'm standing on it today. All the decisions I took in the organisation, I am still sticking to them," he said.

Motsoeneng said his influence in editorial decisions was only for SABC reporters to break their own stories and not follow newspapers.

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