SABC board to probe editorial interference claim against chair
Investigation will be into allegations by head of news Phathiswa Magopeni against Bongumusa Makhathini
The SABC board is investigating allegations against board chair Bongumusa Makhathini by the public broadcaster’s head of news, Phathiswa Magopeni.
This comes after Magopeni last year lodged a complaint against Makhathini and the broadcaster’s CEO, Madoda Mxakwe, over several issues, including alleged editorial interference and abuse of power.
In a statement on Thursday the SABC board said it had established a special committee to probe whether the board chair had a case of misconduct to answer and to determine steps to be taken.
Magopeni’s complaint came days after the Sunday Times reported she was being blamed for airing a court-interdicted episode of the investigative news programme Special Assignment and was subsequently charged with negligence and bringing the SABC into disrepute.
Magopeni accused Mxakwe and Makhathini, in her complaint to the board, of using the Special Assignment issue to “destroy” and “hound” her out of the public broadcaster.
The complaint was contained in a nine-page letter in which Magopeni painted a grim picture of how Mxakwe and Makhathini allegedly used their positions of authority to try to force her to approve an unscheduled interview with ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa in the run-up to the local government elections.
Her refusal, she said, and complaints from the ANC about how the SABC covered its election campaign, could be the reason there was an attempt to place the blame on her for the Special Assignment error and ultimately remove her from the SABC.
She has subsequently been found guilty of misconduct for failing to prevent the airing of the Special Assignment episode and a warning was recommended.
Magopeni accused Mxakwe and Makhathini of editorial interference for allegedly exerting pressure on her for an interview with Ramaphosa during his campaign in Limpopo. She said the duo called her on October 24 to tell her about a request from ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe for a radio interview with Ramaphosa.
According to Magopeni, the initial call came from Mxakwe, which she objected to, as SABC editorial processes did not allow for special coverage of the ANC president because this would have “made a mockery” of the public broadcaster.
According to her, Makhathini got involved through a phone call in which he asked what she had done about the Ramaphosa interview since the call made by Mxakwe.
“I said I had done nothing because it would have been an editorial transgression. He went as far as saying the ANC president was in his final leg of the campaign and would be making his way to the SABC afterwards,” she said.
“I asked him what he was coming to do, as news had no scheduled interview with him and there was no preparation for such by editors.
“He asked me if the president would have to leave the SABC without doing the interview. I emphatically said from a news point of view, yes.”
Magopeni also said another incident of overreach on the part of Makhathini was in May when he called her about SABC coverage of the succession battle in the Zulu royal family.
She said he told her there was a court battle taking place and the other side of the family contesting the throne had to be heard. She said Makhathini went as far as sending her a white envelope containing the court papers, through a security guard who gave them to her in the parking area.
Magopeni detailed other instances that pointed to alleged abuse of power by the CEO and board chair.
The SABC board has established a special committee to look into the allegations against Makhathini, while those against Mxakwe will be dealt with internally, the board said.
The special committee will:
- Evaluate the allegations by Magopeni against Makhathini to determine whether there was a prima facie act of misconduct and, if so, investigate the merits and veracity of the allegations;
- Make a determination based on the investigation conducted; and
- Recommend to the SABC board the steps it should take.
“Should misconduct be proved, the board is bound in terms of the Broadcasting Act to report the matter to the appointing body,” it said.
“In the interests of procedural and substantive fairness and respecting the rights of all the parties involved, the board will not be doing a running commentary on the grievance process. We trust that the public and interested parties will allow due process to be followed.
“The board remains committed to transparency and upholding the rule of law.”
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