The Right2Know Campaign welcomes the decision by acting SABC CEO Jimi Matthews to quit his job because he can no longer tolerate the “corrosive atmosphere” at the broadcaster. The stormy departure of someone as senior as the CEO is telling of just how bad things have become at the broadcaster, and it shows that public opposition to COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng is gaining momentum. In the past week we have held five pickets against the SABC management nationally and we will continue to mobilise and work with other civil society, media and worker organisations to put pressure on the SABC until Hlaudi follows Matthews out the door!
Matthews has long been complicit in the decline of the SABC and the unethical decisions that he now rails against. He has also staunchly supported Hlaudi, under whose watch the crisis at the SABC has reached unprecedented levels. The fact that someone who appeared to be so close to Hlaudi can no longer stand for what is happening is a major blow to the COO and his clique. We urge others to follow Matthews and take a stand against Hlaudi and his despotic rule.
Matthews has publicly apologised for his role in all of this and for not speaking out when his voice needed to be heard. At this stage we cannot be entirely sure what prompted Matthews’ sudden change of heart, but it comes amidst the controversy over the decision to censor visuals of violent protests and instructions not to even cover peaceful protests against the SABC itself. There is worsening turmoil within the SABC because of managerial interference, rampant abuses of power and the deranged, often whimsical orders flung around by Hlaudi day in and day out.
Last week, three senior SABC journalists were suspended when they spoke out against an instruction from Motsoeneng not to cover a Right2Know protest outside the SABC. Those journalists are now taking legal action against the SABC to uphold their constitutional rights and R2K is fully supportive of their fight. Despite many having jumped ship and despite attempts by management to purge and silence journalists who show any sign of independent thinking, there clearly are still ethical journalists and people of sound conscience at the SABC and we urge them to take a stand. We will support MWASA and will support likely industrial action in response to unilateral management decisions. We also urge the public to join the campaign against Hlaudi – we cannot allow him to rule the SABC as his own personal fiefdom for any longer!
Let us be clear – the problems at the SABC did not start with Hlaudi, nor will they end with his departure. The SABC crisis is rooted in systematic attempts by the political elite to undermine and control key public institutions. Capturing the most important media machine in the country, which is the primary – and often the only – source of broadcast media for millions, means enormous influence over public discourse. It is a simple truism that those in power will seek to control the narrative, and with the ruling party facing a crisis of legitimacy and increasingly insecure in its authority, it is fiercely determined to do just that at the expense of fundamental constitutional rights. The Broadcasting Amendment Bill, the amendments to the broadcaster’s memorandum of incorporation and the revised editorial policy are some of the means by which accountability is being directed upwards and away from the public and power to determine what the broadcaster says and does is being centralised in the hands of Minister Muthambi, an important Zuma henchman.
The SABC is a vital media organisation with a wider reach than any other in the country. Its role in fostering an accountable democracy and informed public is difficult to overstate, and its capture by a narrow clique imperils our rights to information access and expression. Getting rid of Hlaudi,whose powerful allies have fought hard to keep him in his place, would be an important step in halting the rot and reclaiming the SABC as a publicly accountable institution. He remains in his position in spite of the Public Protector exposing him as a liar who is unfit for the job. But he is an emperor with no clothes now, and more than ever we need a concerted push to demand his sacking. Hlaudi must go!