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SA Pen

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PEN SA Demands the Immediate Reinstatement of Fired SABC Journalists

PEN South Africa, one of the two South African affiliates of the international institution composed of writers, poets, editors and journalists, who promote literature and freedom of expression, is outraged at the summary dismissal of eight journalists by the SA Broadcasting Corporation on July 19 following their suspension last week for protesting against the news censorship policies of the broadcaster.

The eight voiced their complaints after the SABC issued an instruction that pictures of violent protests, such as the setting fire to schools and other public buildings and other acts of destruction at those buildings, were not to be broadcast. The journalists described the instruction as imposing censorship which is not only unconstitutional but also contravenes the professional standards of news coverage as outlined in media codes of conduct.

In firing the eight the SABC is again showing its contempt for legal process. It has ignored the ruling by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) that it reverse the decision to ban broadcasts of pictures of the destruction and also the case in the Pretoria High Court where the Helen Suzman Foundation is applying for an urgent order suspending the SABC’s changes of editorial policy. In addition, the journalists have filed an urgent application directly to the Constitutional Court to have the charges brought against them by the SABC officials to be declared unlawful. The eight are also awaiting the outcome of an application against their suspension in the Labour Court.

PEN South Africa is concerned at the wider implications of the actions against the journalists which show that SABC senior officials have no qualms about interfering in editorial independence and the consequences arising from the SABC being unable to deliver on its public broadcasting mandate.

PEN South Africa demands the immediate reinstatement of the journalists and the withdrawal of the trumped up charges against them. The charges state that the eight have made it known that they will continue to disrespect their employer and undermine the SABC and the authority of the management.

The suspensions followed the journalists complaining about the editorial bans at routine news discussions where robust discussion is never regarded as disrespectful. PEN South Africa points out that suspension for raising issues at such meetings is unheard of in the media and is contrary to all normal rules of conduct. It has had an enormous chilling effect on remaining staff at the broadcaster who fear that voicing criticism of editorial conduct will cost them their jobs.

Finally, PEN South Africa calls for the dismissal of the SABC’s Chief Operating Officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng who has taken on the role of Editor-in-Chief and is responsible for the editorial policy changes and the actions against the journalists.

Margie Orford
President of PEN South Africa

Mandla Langa
Executive Vice-President of PEN South Africa

Raymond Louw
Vice President of PEN South Africa

 

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