Concerns over SABC News’ independence following Magopeni’s axing

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The Head of Media Monitoring Africa William Bird says allegations of political interference at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) need to be taken seriously and must be properly investigated. Bird was commenting on the SABC’s decision to fire Head of News Phathiswa Magopeni with immediate effect – citing a breakdown of trust.

She was found guilty late last year of misconduct for failing to ensure that a court order was complied with regarding an interdicted Special Assignment programme. Magopeni last year lodged a grievance against Chief Executive Officer Madoda Mxakwe regarding alleged political interference.

The SABC later said it had established a special committee to look into the matter. Bird says it is important that Magopeni’s point of view is also heard.

“It is a very sad that for the SABC and for South Africa. There are certain people that will obviously be rejoicing at the turn of events. I think that is really sad precisely because thanks to Phathiswa, the senior executive team and the board have been able to restore the credibility and independence of the SABC over the last several years. If you look at where it was in 2016, Phathiswa came in and she has been able to do an incredible job.”

Bird says the SABC has always been subjected to political interference: 

The Campaign for Free Expression (CFE) has also expressed concern over the SABC’s.

“I think that in context this is a very concerning development. The context is that the SABC has in the past few years stabilised itself and asserted its independence and under Magopeni re-established the credibility and trustworthiness of its news product. And this also comes shortly after she comes under personal attack from key ANC leaders and she has herself complained of editorial interference by the people who are firing her. So, in that context, it is a very concerning moment for SABC News,” Executive director of CFE, Anton Harber.

The South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) says they are shocked by the decision to dismiss Magopeni.

“It’s quite an unfortunate incident and we have just received the news of the dismissal and we will study the dismissal letter sent by the Group CEO and we will certainly take the matter from there on and I think this whole thing has been quite unfair on Phathiswa and we will take this on review,” says Sanef’s Reggie Moalusi.

Meanwhile, Labour Union Bemawu, is calling for an urgent investigation to be conducted by Parliament’s Communications Portfolio Committee into Magopeni’s dismissal.

“I am very concerned as we have seen the grievances that she has lodged and they are very serious grievances and we are acting in this point in time and not on her behalf but on behalf of the allegations she made. And we are busy writing to the portfolio committee to ask for an investigation in respect of that and we have seen that the board has appointed a committee to investigate this which is absolute nonsense. You cannot investigate yourself and that investigation must come from a different body and that body is the portfolio committee itself,” says Bemawu’s Hannes du Buisson.

Du Buisson has also expressed shock at the decision: