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It is understandable that veteran journalists such as Anton Harber will raise concern when dramatic events such as those at the SABC towards the end of last year seem to rear their ugly heads again (“Is the SABC sliding back into ANC lapdog status?”, January 21).

As a former staffer, I was also concerned when reports of infighting between board members, executive committee members and the editorial team over editorial matters surfaced in the media. It seemed to be a replay of events during the “nine wasted years” under Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

Those were very difficult and painful days. But the “brick wall” that has for many years stood between the governing party and SABC news was not managers or editors. It was journalists themselves. Some paid a heavy price for their principled positions.

I remember one editor, who is still deeply involved in editorial policies, standing in the middle of the newsroom and pronouncing: “I don’t eat principles, if I’m told to do anything, right or wrong, I will definitely do it.”

That was after a message from the former head of news, Jimi Matthews, instructing us not to play opposition parties’ sound bites. We openly defied that stupid and illegal instruction and continued covering all parties, including opposition parties.

The role played by journalists at the SABC over the years, particularly of protecting the newsroom, has always been undermined and downplayed. We must not make the mistake though of believing that the removal of the head of news might result in things falling apart.

I like Phathiswa Magopeni, and I had a good working relationship with her while I was there. I would love to see her remaining in her position, but the role and efforts of other hacks must not be taken for granted. They have kept the SABC newsroom operational in extremely difficult situations. And I’m sure they will continue to do so. 

Manelisi Dubase

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