By Kaveel Singh
Johannesburg – Four of the SABC journalists who were suspended or faced disciplinary hearings were fired on Monday possibly because they approached the Labour Court, their lawyer said.
“We will argue [in the court] on Thursday that the reason for them being dismissed is that they pursued their rights in terms of the Labour Court. It is only speculation at this time, [however] I think it is a fair assumption to be made,” Anton van der Bijl, the labour attorney for Solidarity who is representing the four journalists, said.
The four are Foeta Krige, Suna Venter, Krivani Pillay and Jacques Steenkamp.
Van Der Bijl confirmed that other journalists who were suspended or faced charges at the broadcaster but were not represented by Solidarity were not part of the application to the Labour Court. No action was apparently taken against them on Monday.
He said he would tell the Labour Court that the dismissals be set aside because the decisions were “based on unlawful policy”.
“The policy [of the SABC to not broadcast footage of violent protests] is subject to the decision of the ConCourt , the High Court and Icasa. We’ll ask that.. [the sanctions] cannot proceed because the policy has not had an opportunity to be scrutinised by the court.”
Charges inconsistent with the Constitution
Solidarity said in an earlier statement that it “wants to have the suspension and disciplinary action against several SABC journalists set aside pending the adjudication by the Constitutional Court of the lawfulness of the SABC’s censorship instructions”.
“This comes after the SABC still failed to withdraw the charges against the journalists for their refusal to apply censorship. In a recent letter to the suspended and disciplined journalists, the SABC also accused them of having allegedly committed ‘further misbehaviour’ by informing the media of their suspensions and their continued refusal to comply with the SABC’s instructions.”
Solidarity chief executive Dr Dirk Hermann said: “We…believe that the individuals concerned have a very strong case against the SABC for the very reason that the charges laid against them by their employer are inconsistent with the Constitution.”
Economics editor Thandeka Gqubule, Krige and Venter were previously served with suspension letters after they disagreed with an instruction during a diary conference not to cover the Right2Know campaign’s protest against censorship at the SABC.
#SABC censorship and firing of journos is a violation of the democratic principles SA fought so hard for – it cannot go unchallenged
— Debora Patta (@Debora_Patta) July 19, 2016
That protest was in response to SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s decision to stop airing footage of the destruction of property during protests. This caused outrage from civil society and media organisations.
Following this, the SABC charged three other journalists for “liaising with the media” without authorisation from their bosses.
SABC to go to court over ruling
The three – Busisiwe Ntuli, Pillay and Steenkamp – wrote a letter to Motsoeneng last weekend, expressing their dissatisfaction with how operations had been managed at the SABC over the last few weeks.
Journalists Lukhanyo Calata and Vuyo Mvoko have also been either charged or suspended by the broadcaster.
The Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) ruled last week that the SABC had to withdraw its resolution to ban the broadcasting of violent protests.
Motsoeneng told media at a briefing after the ruling that no one could tell the SABC what to do.
The broadcaster is now reportedly approaching the courts to have Icasa’s decision reviewed. – News24
Solidarity media statement
The SABC has dismissed four of the journalists, who have been suspended and against whom disciplinary action has been initiated, with immediate effect and without hearings. The four dismissed journalists are Foeta Krige, Suna Venter, Krivani Pillay and Jacques Steenkamp. The broadcaster brought disciplinary steps against eight journalists because they had allegedly distanced themselves from the SABC’s censorship decision not to broadcast violence during protest actions.
The fate of the four other journalists is not yet known. Trade union Solidarity and the SABC will meet each other in the Labour Court in Johannesburg on Thursday when Solidarity would approach the court on an urgent basis to set aside the decision to dismiss the journalists, also requesting that the disciplinary process be revoked in its entirety.
The decision to dismiss the journalists appears to be a continuation of what can only be described as a brutal exercise of power @ the SABC
— SANEF (@SAEditorsForum) July 18, 2016
The dismissal letters state that it is common knowledge that the journalists do not respect the SABC’s management and that they would continue to undermine the SABC’s authority and its management. According to the SABC, the journalists’ behaviour is untenable and the employment relationship has been terminated on 18 July.
“These dismissals follow in the wake of Icasa’s finding that the decision to censor was unlawful. If the decision is unlawful then the dismissal of the journalists, too, is unlawful. Their dismissals should be overturned. The SABC did the opposite and dismissed them because, ironically, they had distanced themselves from an unlawful instruction,” Solidarity Chief Executive Dirk Hermann said.
“In my 20 years of involvement in labour relations I have not come across anything like this. It can be likened to a kangaroo court that executes an accused while an appeal process is still pending. In this instance, legal processes are being disregarded. It is as if the SABC’s executives believe that they are above the law and that it would be of no consequence.
The battle lines have been clearly drawn and we are going to involve the best top lawyers available. We believe in the rule of law and that unlawfulness should have consequences. We will take the matter even further by asking for an order as to costs against Hlaudi Motsoeneng in his personal capacity,” Hermann said.
Solidarity has served papers on the Labour Court asking that the journalists’ suspensions and disciplinary hearings be suspended pending the rulings in the various legal processes against the SABC’s censorship policy. The SABC was supposed to indicate by 17:00 on Monday 18 July whether it would oppose the court action. Instead of following court processes, the SABC has dismissed the journalists unilaterally and without a hearing, informing them in a letter of their dismissal with immediate effect.
This coming Thursday Solidarity was due to appear before the Labour Court to obtain an interim interdict against the suspensions and disciplinary processes. The trade union will now also amend its appeals to court, also requesting that the decision to dismiss the journalists be set aside as a matter of urgency.