Hlaudi Motsoeneng. Picture: THE TIMES
Hlaudi Motsoeneng. Picture: THE TIMES

Details of the despotic reign of former SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng were laid bare in parliament moments after the Cape Town High Court ruled that his latest appointment was unlawful.

As allegations emerged that the politically connected Gupta family attempted to take complete control of SABC news prior to the launch of their news channel, ANN7, a former staff member warned that SABC management was “killing” the public broadcaster.

And SABC journalists fired for disobeying Motsoeneng‘s decision to not show protest footage on SABC channels spoke of a culture of fear in which his decisions were backed by “enforcers”.
Puzzled members of parliament asked how Motsoeneng, who lied about having a matric qualification, managed to rule the SABC seemingly unchecked.

Sipho Masinga, a former SABC IT executive, told the inquiry that Nazeem Howa, former CEO of Gupta-owned Oakbay Investments, presented the SABC with a three-page document detailing plans for the company to take over the public broadcaster‘s news department.

Masinga said the meeting of SABC executives and Howa took place before ANN7‘s 2013 launch.

It is believed that Motsoeneng supported the plan.

The document proposed that SABC news be rebranded, that the SABC supply journalists, and that Gupta-controlled TNA retain advertising revenue. Masinga said he rejected the proposal.
Masinga and former SABC group human resources executive Jabulani Mabaso told the inquiry that Motsoeneng was the de facto CEO of the corporation.

Masinga said during his time as COO Motsoeneng met MultiChoice executives several times without the CEO being aware of it.

He said he refused to attend the meetings “because those meetings were not legal”.

Motsoeneng signed a controversial R550-million deal with
MultiChoice in 2013 that gave the private broadcaster access to the SABC‘s entire archive. Masinga said the SABC could have made R2-billion on the deal.

“This was really a sale of a national asset ... I can see ... we are killing this company.

“The only reason the SABC is still on air is that you can‘t add more competitors terrestrially. There is no [broadcasting] spectrum. If tomorrow you add two competitors, the SABC will be where the Post Office is,” he said, adding that digital broadcasting would leave the SABC unprotected from competition.

Motsoeneng was given R10-million for the MultiChoice deal. A condition of the deal was that the SABC support MultiChoice‘s proposal to have set-top boxes, meant to be introduced as part of the government‘s digital migration programme, encryption-free.
Free-to-air service provider eSat TV wants set-top boxes encoded to fight MultiChoice‘s monopoly on pay television.
Masinga said the SABC supported encryption along with the government, but that suddenly changed.
He questioned the legality of a memorandum that gave the communications minister the right to veto any decision at the SABC, saying it effectively nullified the board.
“Effectively it makes the Broadcasting Act redundant.”
Journalists at the broadcaster told of the prevalence of fear in the organisation, where those who questioned decisions were told to leave.
Current affairs executive producer Krivani Pillay told the parliamentary committee that she and others had questioned the decision to cancel a popular radio programme, The Editors, which dealt with current affairs and politics. Pillay, with Suna Venter‚ Foeta Krige‚ Thandeka Gqubule‚ Busisiwe Ntuli‚ Lukhanyo Calata‚ Vuyo Mvoko and Jacques Steenkamp were axed by the public broadcaster earlier this year for speaking out against its policy of not showing footage of violent protests.
Pillay said Motsoeneng told her and others at a meeting: “If people do not adhere, get rid of them. We cannot have people who question management.” He referred to “a new SABC”.
The journalists were reinstated after a Labour Court ruling and last month vowed to continue with a Constitutional Court battle against the SABC despite being intimidated and receiving death threats.

“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,” Gqubule told the committee.
SABC news had become tainted, with politicians constantly dictating how journalists covered
stories, said Gqubule. She said the crisis in the newsroom did not necessarily start with Motsoeneng but he “exacerbated” the situation with “crude underhandedness”.
Yesterday Motsoeneng was dealt a heavy blow when the Cape Town High Court declared his appointment as group executive of corporate affairs, the post he held before and after becoming COO, “irrational and unlawful”.
The court said that Motsoeneng could not occupy any position at the SABC until a damning 2014 report by the public protector was set aside or new disciplinary processes against him were finalised. The court said the initial disciplinary hearing that cleared Motsoeneng of wrongdoing was “wholly inadequate”.
Motsoeneng‘s lawyer, Zola
Majavu, said the ruling did not mean that his client had to vacate office immediately. He said he had not received instructions to

- The Times

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