2007

2007

31 January 2007: Business Day publishes an article about the loss of staff at the SABC.

Heads are rolling at the SABC … the wrong ones

January 31st, 2007

SABC chief executive Dali Mpofu said in the middle of last year’s SABC “blacklist” saga that “heads would roll” if an independent inquiry found that there had been wrongdoing...What we didn’t expect, however, was that these heads would belong to those who came out best in the inquiry report. Those found in the report to have breached the SABC charter repeatedly...still have their heads firmly attached to their shoulders...

...The most striking thing is that no-one has criticised the report...on the blacklisting affair. Nobody has given any substantial reason to question the evidence...or...conclusions.

They said Perlman had behaved professionally. They said that SABC and its representatives had been dishonest by omission in their response...They confirmed that there were indeed a number of people blocked from the airwaves...They described serious management problems in the SABC newsroom...

Mpofu was energetic in his response...In other words, he did everything except pursue the findings and recommendations of the report. And he did it with drive and passion...

The person who emerges strongest from all of this is the head of news, Dr Snuki Zikalala. He has shown twice now that he is more powerful than the CEO...Zikalala’s critics are leaving the building.

One can only look upon this with an overwhelming sense of sadness. The notion of a national broadcaster as a home for the highest quality, independent, public service journalism is being denigrated...

(Read the full piece here)

* This column first appeared in Business Day, January 31, 2007

26 April 2007: Snuki Zikalala announces that the SABC is to open an office in Harare to enhance its coverage of events in the country. According to the broadcaster this will enable it to tell what it considers to be the 'true Zimbabwean story'.

SABC Managing Director Snuki Zikalala met Zimbabwean Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu to discuss the establishment of the office. Zikalala was accompanied by Supa Mandiwanzira, the chief executive of Mighty Movies, which currently represents SABC in Zimbabwe.

“It is a very important story. It’s a story that is unfolding and there are a lot of good stories in Zimbabwe that need coverage,” said Zikalala. The setting up and operation of the office will occur in April 2008 in time to cover the Zimbabwean elections.

25 May 2007: The ANC pays Richard Young R15-million in tax-payers’ money in an out-of- court settlement to prevent further publicity of its role in the Arms Deal scandal. ETV headlines the story, the ANC-controlled SABC with Zikalala as head of news, suppresses it

May 2007: Tokyo Sexwale gives Sophie Mokoena Batho Bonke shares worth more than R3m.

23 May 2007: Telkom announces that its proposed television news programme will be headed by Jimi Matthews, who ran the SABC television news department from 2002 until 2005 when he was pushed sideways by Snuki Zikalala into the sports department. Telkom Media never got off the ground despite millions of rands being spent and eventually died a silent death. With nowhere else to go, Matthews returned to the SABC on 1 March 2011 where he eventually resigned in disgrace having been, for years, an ANC propagandist and someone who routinely threatened news personnel who would not compromise their ethical principles by promoting the Zuptas

8 June 2007: The Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) expresses concern about the fact that the SABC has for the second time failed to honour its promises to broadcast a commissioned documentary on President Thabo Mbeki

Now you see it, now you don't, now you see it, now you don't: such is the farcical situation with the controversial documentary on President Thabo Mbeki, which the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) had scheduled for screening on Sunday.

The Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) is disturbed that, once again, the documentary has been withdrawn, and will not be screened on Sunday. Why it changed its mind once again when it had decided to screen it, is beyond understanding. This is yet another indication of chaos inside the broadcaster, where different units of the same organisation talk past one another, and then land up working against one another.

We do not buy the argument by SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago, that the booking on the SABC's programming schedule was provisional. This shows an unacceptably cavalier approach towards its own schedule. As the FXI has noted recently, the SABC has withdrawn other controversial programmes at the eleventh hour: something that the Corporation appears to do all too easily, and without public accountability. The latest withdrawal of the Mbeki documentary confirms the impression that the public cannot trust the scheduling information the SABC puts out, and should treat its contents with a pinch of salt

22 June 2007: Business Day reveals that while the SABC had paid the local professional soccer league just R67-million for the entire season’s games, it had splurged R93-million for the rights to screen one low-profile Monday evening match in the in the English Premier Soccer League (most high profile matches with league-leading teams such as Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea are played at weekends). What was even more shocking was that the SABC had committed itself to this highly unfavourable deal for no less than three years.

The dispute over the sale of Premier Soccer League (PSL) broadcasting rights took another twist yesterday when it emerged that the SABC had bought rights to Monday night English Premier League matches for nearly US$40m over the next three years. The deal will see the SABC paying US$13m (R93m) a year for one low-profile English Premier League match a week over the next three years.

While SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago pleaded ignorance and said he was not aware of such a deal, English Premier League chairman Sir David Richards said from England that the public broadcaster had concluded the agreement earlier this year. "Yes, it is true. We have entered into an agreement with the SABC and they will have rights to one premiership match a week for US$10m a year for the next three years." The disclosure will come as a surprise to those who accused the PSL of greed after the league sold the rights to the domestic premiership to pay channel SuperSport International for R1.6bn over five years last week.

Even more shocking is the revelation that the SABC was prepared to pay R93m for a low-profile Monday night English premiership match -- Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool usually play on weekends -- when it had paid the PSL just R67m a year for the entire domestic premiership programme. Richards said he had played an advisory role in the prelude to the sale of the PSL broadcasting rights as he wanted local football to maximise its potential, just as English football did.

In the aftermath of the latest episode in the long-running saga Kganyago said that SABC CEO Dali Mpofu had requested an appointment with PSL chairman, Irvin Khoza to try resolve the broadcast rights impasse. "The CEO (Mpofu) wants to see if this cannot be resolved amicably between the two parties," he said. The SABC seems to have changed its attitude, as Mpofu was confrontational after the PSL awarded the rights to SuperSport last week.

In the meantime, free-to-air channel e.tv has taken advantage of the dispute and managed to secure the rights to televise local football live, with the purchase of the season-opening Telkom Charity Cup this week.

2 July 2007: The Cape Argus reveals that the SABC had terminated its longest-running, most successful and financially viable programme, the environmental slot, 50/50. Columnist and author Max du Preez contends that the programme had repeatedly shown up the ANC government’s environmental incompetence and corruption, particularly in connection with water shortage and pollution and the involvement of the mining sector – in which many politically connected ANC members had a stake – in such shortages and pollution.

The SABC has pulled the plug on in-house production of its award-winning environmental programme 50/50, the longest running local programme in SA's television history. Without warning, all six permanent 50/50 staff members were told last week they were being redeployed, and their union - the Broadcasting, Electronic Media and Allied Workers' Union (Bemawu) - has declared a formal dispute.

Management has indicated the programme will continue after being outsourced to a commercial production company, but gave staff members no indication of when, how or to whom this was being done. The programme's budget - which is only for six months - runs out in September.

The move was not unexpected as management had previously tried to can the programme, which has been running for 23 years - one of the few survivors from pre-1994 SABC. But the outcry from the country's environmental community and conservation- loving viewers forced the SABC board to reverse the decision.

The SABC management last year again indicated that it wanted to outsource 50/50, which about a month ago was moved from its traditional Sunday evening slot to Monday evenings. Ironically, its AR (audience rating) rocketed.

Bemawu then got involved in a consultation process on behalf of the 50/50 staff members, but in November sent the SABC's labour relations division a 16-page document expressing concern about the process and asking for more information.

"We place on record, with concern, that it appears as if a decision has already been taken to outsource 50/50 prior to this so-called consultation process and that the SABC is merely trying to mechanically adhere to that procedure," the letter stated. It did not accept that it was in the best interests of 50/50 staff or the SABC to outsource such a "valuable asset". The union says it never had a written response to this letter, as required.

Instead, the six 50/50 staff members were called in to individual meetings with senior management last week and told they were being redeployed to other SABC units. When they queried this in terms of labour legislation and pointed out that they were entitled to union representation, they were allegedly told that because they would be doing similar work within the organisation and their conditions of service would remain the same, it was management's prerogative to redeploy them and it was not obliged to wait for union involvement.

Independent producers, some of whom earn their bread and butter by making films with an environmental theme for 50/50, are extremely concerned at the move, as it will fundamentally affect them.

17 July 2007: The Post reveals that the SABC plans to seek an urgent interdict preventing the public screening by the Mail & Guardian of its commissioned documentary, Unauthorised: Thabo Mbeki which the SABC had refused to broadcast.

The Mail & Guardian newspaper along with the Harold Wolpe Memorial Trust planned to screen it as part of their Critical Thinking Forum from July 19 to July 26 at venues across the country.

19 July 2007: Business Day reports that the SABC had withdrawn its application for an urgent interdict to prevent the Mail & Guardian from holding a private screening of a documentary on President Thabo Mbeki which the SABC had commissioned but then failed to broadcast.

The urgent interdict had been intended to halt the Mail & Guardian's Critical Thinking forum from screening the documentary, “Unauthorised: Thabo Mbeki and the African Country”, last night to 200 high-profile guests who had not been able to view the documentary because the public broadcaster has so far refused to flight it.

The broadcaster said last week it had decided to hold off on the hearing until August 22 and withdraw its "urgent" status. SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago said this was due to "logistical reasons" and would apply only to this specific case. "We've agreed to send some SABC people to be a part of the (Mail & Guardian) discussions and we will discuss future screenings thereafter."

The Freedom of Expression Institute, which has criticised the SABC's delays in screening the film, said the move was unacceptable in terms of the SABC's role as public broadcaster. "In principle, they've maintained that Broad Daylight (the producers) was wrong to distribute the documentary. For what reason, I don't know, because they clearly aren't interested in screening it themselves," said the institute's Simon Delaney.

He said the SABC would be free to make its complaints heard at the hearing next month , "if it still wanted to" as "by then I'm sure the whole country would have seen the documentary".

Redi Direko, co- producer of the documentary, said she believed Broad Daylight owned the rights to the documentary as it had given the SABC notice in March that the contract with it had been cancelled. Kganyago said last week no such notification had been received.

21 July 2007: President Thabo Mbeki launches SABC News International at Monte Casino in Johannesburg

The channel aims at providing an African perspective on domestic and international stories.

SABC News International, a channel with a Pan-African focus and reach went on air for the first time at 6pm on June 7, 2007 as a soft launch to test the reception in the market. The launch included live feeds from SABC’s six international bureaus in Kenya, DRC, Washington, Brussels, New York, Senegal and Nigeria.

Initially, the channel will be broadcast via signal distributor Sentech’s Vivid Satellite Digital Decoder which currently broadcasts to Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Europe. In addition to news bulletins, the channel will feature current affairs and investigative programmes, including news magazine shows which will incorporate broader content like weather, sports, and economic news and studio interviews. The channel will also include French news bulletins which are currently streamed live on the SABC News website.

SABC News International will replace the SABC Africa overnight feed on SABC 2 and will initially broadcast weekdays only. As from April 2008 it will have a full 24-hour schedule.

The service lasts exactly two years and eight months closing down on 31 March 2010

29 July 2007: Pippa Green writes in the Mail & Guardian of how the SABC was used to attack Vincent Maphai

Last November, for example, SAfm’s afternoon current affairs show reported allegations of sexual harassment against Vincent Maphai, chair of the University of KwaZulu-Natal council, and vice-chancellor Malegapuru Makgoba. What it didn’t say was that the accuser was being investigated by the University for improperly awarding a degree. The next day the same show ran a longer report, which also failed to mention that the accuser was being investigated. Then the anchors interviewed a representative from People Opposing Women Abuse, who said false allegations of sexual harassment were “unlikely”, and it ran a phone-in poll about whether such harassment was on the increase.

Talk about loading the dice. Why not ask whether awarding false degrees was on the increase? Was it coincidence that Maphai, a past chair of the SABC board, was the man who got Zikalala out of his position in the newsroom in 2002? Or was it just lack of verification?

30 July 2007: Sunday World reports that the Communication Workers Union has taken Zikalala to the CCMA for appointing Flomi Skosana executive producer of IsiNdebele news without following procedure.

3 August 2007: The Mail & Guardian reveals corruption, abuse of power and intimidation by head of the SABC legal services, Mafika Sihlali.

22 August 2007: SABC board deputy chairperson Christine Qunta accuses the commercial media of racism and blames it for a concerted campaign to portray the SABC in a negative light.

28 August 2007: the Pretoria News reports that an SABC video tape with newspaper front-page footage claiming Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang was a drunk and a thief has mysteriously vanished from the state broadcaster's archive.

1 September 2007: Dali Mpofu withdraws the SABC from the South African National Editors Form (Sanef) in protest over its stance on Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and the publication of her medical records in local newspapers.

4 September 2007: Zapiro lampoons the decision by Dali Mpofu to withdraw the SABC from Sanef

6 September 2007: Anton Harber criticises the decision by Dali Mpofu to withdraw the SABC from Sanef.

Harber, a professor of journalism at Johannesburg's Witwatersrand University, stated that Mpofu had used "the language of government, not of journalists”, and questioned why the SABC was defending the health minister. “It is not appropriate,” he said. Harber added that the letter seemed to showcase a close link with the government, and this was “weakening our democracy”.

7 September 2007: Stefaans Brümmer and Adriaan Basson of the Mail & Guardian say that commercial considerations may have prompted the decision by Daly Mpofu to take the SABC out of Sanef

10 September 2007: Constitutional law expert, Pierre de Vos criticises the decision by Dali Mpofu to take the SABC out of Sanef

11 September 2007: The SA National Editors Forum expresses concern at government suggestions it might cut advertising in the Sunday Times over the paper's use of confidential medical records of Manto Tshabalala Msimang

24 September 2007: Zikalala tells the Cape Argus that plans are well advanced to set up a network of global news offices manned by SABC new staff that would compete with long-established and reputable organisations like Reuters, Associated Press and Agence France Presse.

Snuki Zikalala, SABC managing director of news and current affairs, told the Cape Argus the public broadcaster was beefing up its foreign news bureaux and could open offices in Ethiopia, China, India and Russia in 2008.

The corporation had correspondents in Washington, New York, London, Brussels, Senegal and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The out-going board of the SABC had approved the opening of bureaux in Jamaica, Brazil, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Kenya, Zikalala said.

These would be operational before the end of 2007.

"We want to give authentic, authoritative and quality news from our correspondents based in all corners of the world," Zikalala said.

Other initiatives that had been launched included a 24-hour news channel, which went live two months ago.

Zikalala said the public broadcaster was keen to establish a news agency that would sell text, audio and video footage from its worldwide bureaux and South African operations to other media organisations.

"We have so much content it therefore has become important for us to sell this footage. We can recoup some of the money we have invested in our operations if the news agency becomes successful," Zikalala said.

The SABC is also building a TV studio at the New York headquarters of the UN.

11 October 2007: The Congress of South African Trade Unions, Freedom of Expression Institute, Media Workers’ Association of South Africa, the National Council of Trade Unions, the South African Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, the South African NGO Coalition and the Treatment Action Campaign write to President Thabo Mbeki saying that people that had been nominated for the SABC board did not fulfill the requirement of the Broadcasting Act.

The organisations also objected to the inclusion of six members of the old board, all of whom had failed to demonstrate they were “persons who are committed to fairness, freedom of expression, the right of the public to be informed, and openness and accountability”, as required by the Act.

“We are especially concerned about the prospect of Christine Qunta being appointed chairperson of the board.

“In her existing capacity as deputy chairperson, she has presided over problems mentioned above, and has defended the board’s actions publicly, including in her individual capacity in her interview with the portfolio committee on communications,” the organisations said.

The organisations also cited allegations that a list has been imposed on the… committee by the African National Congress, “which—if it proves to be true—could amount to political manipulation of what was meant to be an open and transparent process”, the organisations said.—Sapa

24 October 2007: Business Day reveals that Snuki Zikalala has told a South African Human Rights Commission panel debate on freedom of expression vs the right to privacy that, on his watch, every news story broadcast by the SABC must “affect the country positively.”

Zikalala tells of ‘positive news’ policy at SABC

The journalistic mindset of South Africa’s public broadcaster SABC came into sharp focus last week when its Head of News spelled out its “no go” areas. SABC head of news Snuki Zikalala last week defended the public broadcaster's policy that "every story must affect the country positively" and that critical journalism did not mean negative journalism.

Zikalala told delegates to a South African Human Rights Commission debate that while the SABC was not made up of "sunshine journalists", neither its policy regarding its news coverage, nor its board would ever had allowed the broadcaster to run with a story such as the Sunday Times' story alleging Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang was "a drunk and a thief" .

The commission hosted a panel discussion last week on freedom of expression versus privacy. High-profile media commentators grappled with the issue of whether the Sunday Times' story was in the public interest or whether it was a violation of privacy.

While neither the SABC's editorial policy nor its mandate makes any mention of it having to report "positively", Zikalala said it mentioned that the public broadcaster's role should reflect a "plurality of views and a variety of news". This has placed the broadcaster under close scrutiny from lobby groups and the mainstream media.

When asked how the public broadcaster decided whether a story was positive or negative, Zikalala said the broadcaster, which reaches about 24-million viewers daily, "debates each and every story and asks whether it falls within the constitutional framework". He said publishing a story such as that by the Sunday Times involving the health minister was "disrespectful".

Zikalala said there was a growing belief among South African journalists that "if you attack the president you will be very popular". He said that increasingly black journalists were becoming guilty of this. According to the SABC's own research, it had a 93% credibility rating, he said.

The comments came amid a flurry of opposing perspectives on the Sunday Times story and the complaint of theft laid by the Cape Town Medi-Clinic from which the minister's personal medical files were allegedly stolen. South African Medical Association chairman Dr Kgosi Letlape said that medical records should not be disclosed without consent and that medical ethics should never be sacrificed, even in the face of the law.

5 December 2007: The SACP attacks Snuki Zikalala and Sophie Mokoena over the fact that Mbeki was given a two-hour live radio show just before Polokwane.

The SACP is outraged and regards as extremely scandalous of the public broadcaster, the SABC, to give President Mbeki a two-hour live interview, linked to about 15 of the SABC’s radio stations, tonight. This is nothing but a blatant abuse of the resources of the public broadcaster to, essentially, support a faction in the ANC in the run up to the Polokwane Conference.

We have consistently pointed out over the last few years that the SABC news must operate as a true public broadcaster and not be drawn into internal political struggles in the ANC or any of its Alliance partners. This action by the SABC News practically takes it back to the darkest days of the apartheid regime and is allowing itself to be used as a propaganda mouthpiece of a faction in the ruling party. We have also consistently pointed out hat Dr Snuki Zikalala and Sophie Mokoena in particular, have been in the forefront of this dangerous destruction of the image of the public broadcaster, and its deviation from its public mandate.

It is also clear to us as the SACP that this interview would not have been possible without the involvement of government itself. This is part of a very disturbing pattern where the state, ministerial and public resources have been unleashed to basically support one of the two presidential candidates in the African National Congress. This also further underlines, and is deeply connected to, the blatant interferences by a section of the ANC leadership in the appointment of the new board of the SABC.

18 September 2007: the end of the Mbeki era at the SABC

16-20 December 2007: 52nd ANC conference at Polokwane – the beginning of the end of the Mbeki-elected, endorsed and supported Zikalala/ Funde/Qunta cabal. The conference resolves to "encourage" the SABC to "promote local content that is consistent with the outlook of the country's Constitution and the values of the ANC."

22 December 2007: President Thabo Mbeki announced the appointment of the 12-member Board on Saturday just before going on leave.

Old board member Khanyisile Mkhonza was named as chairwoman, succeeding Eddie Funde who was nominated and shortlisted but withdrew citing a heavy workload.

Mkhonza will be deputised by controversial lawyer Christina Qunta, a fierce Mbeki supporter and Aids dissident who held the same position on the old board. She had been widely tipped for the top job.

Also appointed to the new Board were: Independent Electoral Commission chief executive Pansy Tlakula, businesswoman Gloria Serobe, former presidential spokesman Bheki Khumalo and businessman Peter Vundla.

23 December 2007: The Young Communist League (YCL) objects to the Mbeki appointees: "The YCL view these new appointments as part of legitimising the interference by certain individuals within the (African National Congress) leadership echelons who had undermined the parliamentary democratic process."

Other members are: Ashwin Trikamjee, Alison Gillwald, Andile Mbeki, Fadila Lagadien, Nadia Bulbulia and Desmond Golding.

24 December 2007: the Sowetan reports that Zikalala, Sophie Mokoena, Dali Mpofu and Miranda Strydom were visibly upset and emotional when Zuma defeats Mbeki at Polokwane

SABC Timeline: Post-Polokwane conference:

December 2007

Mpofu denies media reports that he vowed to resign his post after the election of Zuma as the new president of the ANC.

Cosatu accuses Mpofu, SABC head of news Snuki Zikalala and political editor Sophie Mokoena as being central to the alleged favouritism towards Mbeki in the run-up to the Polokwane conference.

The names of the short-listed SABC board members are made public, causing a spat between the Zuma and Mbeki factions.