SABC pleads for journalists to be given 'safe space' to work after threats

25 July 2019 - 14:48
By dan meyer
The SABC has condemned threats against its journalists and called for them to be given a 'safe space' to work in.
Image: Waldo Swiegers. (C) Sunday Times. The SABC has condemned threats against its journalists and called for them to be given a 'safe space' to work in.

The SABC has condemned threats directed at its journalists, saying they need a "safe space" in which to work without intimidation. 

The public broadcaster said it was extremely concerned about "death threats" aimed at its reporters, and added that "political and corporate bullying" remained pervasive, some of it on social media platforms. 

"The SABC takes the threats seriously and wants to put on record that these acts go against its constitutionally guaranteed freedom to perform its duties without hindrance," said Phathiswa Magopeni, group executive of news and current affairs.

"The continuing intimidation of our journalists, who are committed to delivering untrammeled news and current affairs content to the South African public, is in itself a threat to the public mandate, in as far as safeguarding and strengthening the country’s democracy through critical watchdog journalism," she said.

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"These are deliberately intended to weaken our ability to report courageously, fairly and comprehensively on all matters of public interest." 

SABC spokesperson Vuyo Mthembu said that the response was prompted by threats made generally on Twitter and other social media platforms, and not because of specific instances of intimidation of any one journalist. 

"It is general hate speech on social media that has prompted this response," she said. "If the public have any issues with the manner in which the SABC goes about reporting on important matters, we urge them to take their complaints to the relevant authorities," she said. 

"Where there is evidence of legislative and regulatory contravention, or complaints of unfair coverage, the public is encouraged to raise these directly with the SABC, or approach relevant institutions such as the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa), the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA), and the Press Council of South Africa (PCSA)."

She said that the threats against broadcasting staff made it difficult to effectively provide the public with accurate news. 

"The SABC is sincerely appealing to the public to give its journalists a safe space to do their work, in a manner that guarantees transparency, accountability and inclusiveness," she said.

"This can only be achieved when the environment is conducive to ensuring plurality in the voices featured in its news content, indiscriminately and without prejudice."

In 2016, a group of SABC journalists labelled the "SABC 8" received death threats  after protesting against censorship by then COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng.