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Hlaudi Motsoeneng stands by decision not to screen violent protests on SABC

11 September 2019 - 13:48 By AMIL UMRAW
Former SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng at the state capture inquiry.
Former SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng at the state capture inquiry.
Image: Antonio Muchave

Former SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng has denied that the sacking of senior staff at the public broadcaster was because they openly defied his policies.

It was rather, he said, because they brought the organisation into disrepute by leaking internal information to the public.

In his second appearance at the state capture inquiry on Wednesday, Motsoeneng remained steadfast in his belief that he did nothing wrong in effecting his 2014 decision to ban the broadcast of violent protests — a decision the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) later found to be illegal.

While he was chief operations officer back in 2014, Motsoeneng redirected responsibilities of the editor-in-chief to his office, giving him overarching authority over the news environment at the broadcaster.

Thereafter, he implemented a controversial policy to ban all broadcasting of violent protests in what was seen as a bid to protect the ANC's image ahead of the national elections. 

What followed was allegedly a purge of news managers who failed to comply with his decisions and policies.

“We were just saying let us be responsible. It is not banning. The decision was just be responsible when you deal with these issues [protests] … As the COO, it is my role to take such decisions. I took that decision and I stand by that decision, wrong or right. I think I did the right thing for the SABC. I take ownership of what I did. It was my decision,” Motsoeneng said.  

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“I still believe that I was correct when I took that decision … If people differ with you there can’t be consequences. It is normal for people to differ with you. It doesn't mean when people differ with you, you must chase them away, you can’t do that.” 

Motsoeneng denied that a group of senior staff was axed from the SABC because they openly defied his decision. The staff members later became known as the "SABC 8".

“The information that I've got, the disciplinary hearing was because the journalists, they leak information, they speak to the media when the SABC policy is that you don’t talk to the media ... It has nothing to do with the visuals,” he said.  

“I was not involved … The charges were about putting the SABC into disrepute by leaking information to the media.” 

One of the SABC 8, executive producer for SAFM current affairs Krivani Pillay, previously told the commission that she was summoned to Motsoeneng's office along with other staff members because his decision was critiqued on one of her shows.

Quoting Motsoeneng from her recollection of the meeting, Pillay said: “We are cleaning up, the people are doing their own stuff. There are many journalists outside who want to work with the SABC ... This is the new SABC, you must adapt or find a job somewhere else. If people do not adhere, get rid of them.” 

Motsoeneng did not deny that he said this in the meeting.

“I said SABC, we are going to transform. I said to the SABC, we are going to put the content which is in the public interest and those issues I don’t really need permission. Some of the people within the SABC, their mentality was still the old mentality and when you want to transform, you must transform — and you can’t work with people who work against the corporation,” Motsoeneng said.  

His testimony is continuing.