Thandeka Gqubule. Picture: RUSSELL ROBERTS/FINANCIAL MAIL
Thandeka Gqubule. Picture: RUSSELL ROBERTS/FINANCIAL MAIL

Hlaudi Motsoeneng is not a journalist; he sells broadcasting technologies to the highest political bidders, a parliamentary inquiry looking into the crisis at the SABC heard on Monday.

The so-called SABC Eight detailed Motsoeneng’s "reign of terror" at the public broadcaster, saying public service journalism "is dying at the SABC".

Suna Venter‚ Foeta Krige‚ Krivani Pillay‚ Thandeka Gqubule‚ Busisiwe Ntuli‚ Lukhanyo Calata‚ Vuyo Mvoko and Jacques Steenkamp were axed by the SABC earlier in 2016 for speaking out against its policy of not showing footage of violent protests.

They were later reinstated following a Labour Court ruling‚ and in November vowed to continue with a Constitutional Court battle against the SABC despite reportedly being intimidated and receiving death threats.

Asked by ad hoc committee member Jabulani Mahlangu to describe Motsoeneng, Gqubule said: "He [Motsoeneng] is not a journalist; he sells broadcasting technologies to the highest political bidders."

She said the SABC board was complicit in the death of journalism at the public broadcaster.

"Public service journalism is dying at the SABC … the ‘protest policy’ is the straw that broke the camel’s back…. I have decided to say no to the reign of terror by Mr Motsoeneng and his cohorts," said Gqubule.

SABC news had become tainted, with politicians, including Communications Minister Faith Muthambi, constantly dictating how journalists should cover certain stories, said Gqubule.

She detailed an incident in which former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe shouted at a presenter behind the scenes for asking unfavourable questions during an interview.

Gqubule said the crisis in the newsroom did not necessarily start with Motsoeneng but he deepened it with "crude underhandedness".

She suggested Motsoeneng and all other executives should be prevented from having any control over editorial decisions.

Earlier, the inquiry heard that Motsoeneng was the de facto CEO at the SABC.

"At the SABC, the CEO’s office is on the 28th floor, the [chief operating officer] is on the 27th floor … but the meetings are held on the 27th floor," said former SABC group human resources executive Jabulani Mabaso.

On Monday Motsoeneng was dealt a heavy blow after the High Court in Cape Town declared his appointment as group executive of corporate affairs, the post he held before becoming chief operating officer, "irrational and unlawful".

The court ruled on Monday that Motsoeneng was not entitled to occupy any position at SABC until a damning 2014 report by the public protector is set aside or new disciplinary processes against him are finalised.

The court said the initial disciplinary hearing that cleared Motsoeneng of any wrongdoing was "wholly inadequate".

Motsoeneng’s lawyer, Zola Majavu, said on Monday that the High Court ruling did not mean his client had to vacate office immediately.

He said he had not yet received instructions to appeal against the ruling.

"It does not mean that [he has to vacate office immediately] … until he is served with a charge sheet and if he decides not to appeal … but for now I don’t have instructions … but pending the disciplinary hearing, the court said he must be suspended," said Majavu.

Motsoeneng lost his job as SABC chief operating officer in September after the Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed his application for leave to appeal against a ruling by the High Court in Cape Town, setting aside his permanent appointment.

The SABC then announced that it had reappointed him to his previous post of group executive for corporate affairs. This precipitated the resignation of two board members in Parliament in October.

Parliament subsequently resolved to hold an inquiry into the situation at the public broadcaster.

The inquiry continues on Tuesday.

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