eNCA to probe allegations of censorship after firing news head Kanthan Pillay

20 December 2019 - 12:50 By Naledi Shange
eNCA's head of news, Kanthan Pillay, was fired on Friday.
eNCA's head of news, Kanthan Pillay, was fired on Friday.
Image: Freddy Mavunda © Financial Mail

eNCA head of news Kanthan Pillay has been fired — but the station said it would nonetheless be probing claims of censorship made against him.

In a statement on Friday, the news channel said that it had terminated its relationship with Pillay with “immediate effect”, saying it had “no choice” but to do so.

Pillay — the founder of the Capitalist Party, which contested the 2019 elections — courted controversy after tweeting this week that a reporter who had resigned was a “rat” jumping to a sinking ship. The reporter, Samkele Maseko, resigned to, reportedly, take up a position at the SABC.

Maseko claimed that Pillay was responsible for censoring comments made by former cabinet member Bongani Bongo about public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan.

“Serious allegations have been levelled at eNCA about Pillay’s censorship of stories and his management style. The channel takes the allegations of censorship very seriously. To that end, eNCA is co-operating fully with the SA National Editors Forum that has requested clarity,” eNCA said.

“The channel will be appointing an external expert to investigate these claims,” it added.

eNCA said although Pillay had tweeted in his personal capacity, he remained a senior member of staff whose views impacted the channel.

“After intense overnight investigation and consultation, the channel decided it had no alternative but to end its relationship with him.

“Although he was acting in an individual capacity and his posting was unsolicited, he was nonetheless a senior member of staff and the channel believes there was no room for any other outcome and that damage control was imperative,” eNCA said.

Editor-in-chief Jeremy Maggs explained why the news organisation had to take action.

 “All news organisations have one currency and that is credibility. It is clear this negative attention has adversely affected eNCA’s reputation and credibility. However with the talented and dedicated staff we have, I believe the channel can recover. Right now our immediate priorities are to mend strained relationships and to rebuild credibility with its audience and other stakeholders as soon as possible,” he said.

Pillay had on Thursday apologised for the tweet.

“I deeply regret the statement I made and retract it in its entirety,” Pillay said in the statement.

He apologised “unreservedly” for offending Maseko, the SABC and eMedia.

“The action I took in haste and without thinking, which now places my employer, my colleagues, my family and my friends in a most embarrassing position. I accept that my actions were irresponsible and unbecoming of a senior manager in any newsroom,” he said.

Maseko had on Friday responded, saying the apology was not accepted.

Meanwhile, Khayelihle Khumalo, another eNCA reporter, has been reinstated following Pillay's firing. He had been suspended for tweeting about the EFF’s conference at the weekend from his personal account, all while the eNCA had boycotted the event after the political party banned some media organisations.

Employees of eNCA on Friday stood in solidarity with Khumalo and Maseko, dressing in black to mark their disapproval of the treatment of their colleagues.

They met with management to air their grievances, and then took to their Twitter pages where they all shared the same message.

“After recent disturbing events, we’ve met with eNCA management and made it clear we stand for independent journalism. We’ll protect the sanctity of our credibility. We won’t allow the integrity of our news profession to be made a mockery of. #CredibilityFirst #NoToCensorship,” they wrote.