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Matthews’ resignation welcomed by Sanef and R2K, slammed by ANC

Matthews’ resignation welcomed by Sanef and R2K, slammed by ANC

The South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) has commended Acting South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) CEO Jimi Matthews, following his surprise resignation from the broadcaster on Monday.

In a letter addressed to SABC Chairperson Mbulayeni Maguvhe, which he also shared on his twitter page, Matthews said a “the prevailing corrosive atmosphere has impacted negatively on my moral judgement”, before adding “what is happening at the SABC is wrong and I can no longer be a part of it”.

“The SABC is an asset of the South African public as a whole and that it is being turned into a state broadcaster that only serves the interests of the ruling party is wrong and must be condemned,” Sanef said in a statement.

“In just the past month alone, visuals of violent incidents were banned, staff were told not to use stories that speak ill of President Jacob Zuma, and three staff members who expressed a dissenting opinion on these issues were suspended. We call on the leadership of the SABC to urgently reverse its decision to censor the news and allow its journalists to work in a free environment that does not compromise their ethics”.

Matthews’ resignation comes after the SABC suspended three journalists, two from Afrikaans radio station Radio Sonder Grense (RSG), on Friday for an apparent disagreement over whether coverage should have been provided to a protest action arranged by the Right2Know campaign outside its Auckland Park offices last Monday.

Reacting to Matthews’ departure, R2K said his mentioned reasons sums up “just how bad things have become” and that it also comes a major blow for controversial SABC Chief Operating Officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, who Matthews previously supported.

“At this stage we cannot be entirely sure what prompted Matthews’ sudden change of heart, but it comes amidst the controversy over the decision to censor visuals of violent protests and instructions not to even cover peaceful protests against the SABC itself,” R2K said.

“There is worsening turmoil within the SABC because of managerial interference, rampant abuses of power and the deranged, often whimsical orders flung around by Hlaudi day in and day out”.

It stated that while Motsoeneng could not single-handedly be blamed for the crisis at the broadcaster, matters have been escalating since his arrival, and that journalists taking action against him, demonstrates he must leave.

“The SABC is a vital media organisation with a wider reach than any other in the country. Getting rid of Hlaudi, whose powerful allies have fought hard to keep him in his place, would be an important step in halting the rot and reclaiming the SABC as a publicly accountable institution,” the statement continued.

“He remains in his position in spite of the Public Protector exposing him as a liar who is unfit for the job. But he is an emperor with no clothes now, and more than ever we need a concerted push to demand his sacking. Hlaudi must go”.

Criticism against the public broadcaster has continued to spike after Motsoeneng announced last month it would no longer show violent protests on television, as it could encourage others to do likewise.

On Monday, a letter complied by three other SABC journalist began circulating on social media, in which they describe their workplace as having become a “source of derision, despair and criticism from the people that we are fundamentally accountable to”.

“As journalists having to operationalise the policies of this public institution, which is important for the promotion of our democracy, we feel aggrieved that the image of our institution and our journalistic integrity continues to be compromised by unconstitutional pronouncements that erode the credibility of the SABC and the journalistic integrity of all of us who work for it,” an extract from the letter, addressed to Motsoeneng, said.

Opposition parties have also waded into the matter with the Democratic Alliance (DA), Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Congress of the People (Cope) and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) calling for Motsoeneng to resign.

ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa has meanwhile blasted Matthews, telling News24 “He could have gone to the relevant stakeholders including the minister to complain but he didn't do that. It’s convenient that it’s timed before elections. It’s meant to create a perception of an unstable broadcaster. Perhaps his resignation was handled outside of the SABC”.