Herbst: SABC’s chequered past – the day Zuma was booed at Mandela’s funeral.

The weekend papers were dominated by Hlaudi Motsoeneng and Jimi Matthews. Protests went ahead on Friday, and reports suggest there is expected to be no let up. The crisis at the SABC is also not up for discussion until after the August 3 elections, as per a Democratic Alliance request, which shows how the pieces in the ANC’s censorship puzzle are coming together. But where did it start, and is Jimi Matthews really the hero some say after he resigned last week. Former SABC journalist Ed Herbst rolls back the clock to 2013, and highlights one of the more disgraceful acts of bias from the state broadcaster. The day President Jacob Zuma was booed in front of global television cameras at former President Nelson Mandela’s funeral. The ruling party is trying to save face by controlling the majority’s view point, and while it may have worked in a pre-internet dawn, times are a changing and the message is slowly finding its way across the land. One wonders if it may be too late come August. Yet more fascinating insight and historical analysis from Herbst. – Stuart Lowman

By Ed Herbst*

Ed Herbst, former television journalist
Ed Herbst, former television journalist

What is this censorship thing? It is English so I don’t know it. There is no censorship here.” Hlaudi Motsoeneng at a media briefing 28/6/2016

Some SABC insiders were highly critical of Matthews’ complicity with Motsoeneng’s actions.

One told City Press of how he would cut voices (what is called “upsounds”) out of scripts to reduce the visibility of certain politicians.

Another told our sister newspaper Rapport: “It is Jimi who tampered with stories and refused to broadcast.”

Hlaudi’s reign of terror – Jimi Matthews speaks City Press 3/7/2016

It was shortly after noon on 10 December 2013 when my phone rang.

The call was from an effusively garrulous friend – not this time, “They booed Zuma at the Nelson Mandela memorial service,” he blurted.

I had not been watching the SABC live broadcast of the service and, for a moment I was speechless. I felt my jaw drop as I grappled to grasp the ramifications of what I had just been told and to articulate my jumbled thoughts.

“In front of all those people – on the world stage?” I stammered.

“Obama”…

“Cameron”…

“Merkel”…

Watch this eNCA clip which shows President Jacob Zuma’s face as the crowd erupted in furious booing.

Zapiro_Mandela_memorial
More magic available at www.zapiro.com.

Zapiro mirrored my confusion in an interview with Jennifer Sanasi of News 24.

At that moment I knew, I knew beyond any shadow of doubt, that the ANC-controlled state broadcaster would censor the booing on its news broadcasts. From then on I monitored and compared the TV news broadcasts of eNCA and the SABC. From 3pm eNCA was carrying the booing footage along with commentary and discussion.

By 7pm the SABC had made no mention of the booing but on its flagship evening television news bulletin it aired only a few seconds of reference when a reporter hesitantly referred to “unruly behaviour” by the audience in an interview with parliamentary speaker Max Sisulu. He did not respond.

No visuals

The SABC has never re-broadcast a single frame of visual material relating to the live coverage of the booing of Jacob Zuma on its television news bulletins on 10 December 2013 or thereafter. It could not cut the live broadcast but it did its best to minimise the damage. The next morning I phoned a contact at City Press about this censorship by omission which is forbidden by the SABC’s code of ethical news conduct. My contact had been a freelance producer supplying programme material to the SABC but he had been bankrupted when the wanton looting of the Corporation by the ANC’s deployed parasites had resulted in the SABC not paying him even though he had supplied what he had been contracted to provide.

Read also: Herbst: Media capture rot runs deep. When SABC defied parliament.

He had good contacts at the SABC and within a few hours he posted online what my own investigation had revealed. That Motsoeneng had called a meeting before the memorial service to say that the SABC would not broadcast, on television or radio, anything that did not show President Jacob Zuma or the ANC in a good light. That once the booing started Jimi Matthews had frantically phoned all the reporters at the stadium to tell them that, if no other option existed, their only reference to the booing was to be about unruly behaviour by a few malcontents in the crowd – which explains what I saw.

Here is the City Press report:

While TV news broadcasters across the world led their bulletins with the booing of President Jacob Zuma at the memorial for Nelson Mandela yesterday, SABC’s prime-time newscasts all but erased the incidents from history.

City Press has learnt from six independent sources at the public broadcaster’s news division that various instructions were given to ban broadcasts of the booing.

In the SABC news studio, the crisis was managed, according to insiders, by Nyana Molete, the national TV news editor.

Sources say he strode into the control room in Auckland Park calling: “Cut away! Cut away! Cut away!”

This, they say, was in line with the decision in a meeting before the broadcast to avoid broadcasting any incident that might embarrass the ANC leadership.

Two separate sources confirmed that SABC radio reporters in the field received instructions over their cellphones when the booing happened. They were observed not commenting on or covering the crowd’s displeasure.

Another source told City Press that staff preparing the evening’s news bulletins received instructions, said to come from head of news Jimi Matthews, that the booing incidents would not be included and that booing should not be referred to, rather “unruly behaviour” by elements in the crowd.’

While eNews and eNCA made the booing their headline story, SABC3’s 7pm news bulletin and prime-time 24-hour news channel coverage all but ignored it.

Media Monitoring Africa director William Bird confirmed this, saying: “There’s no mention of booing from our observation so far. Not in the SABC1 headline bulletin or the SABC3 headline bulletin. There’s not even mention of an unruly crowd.”

Increasing penury

It was only later that I discovered the reason for the booing. Most of the people at the stadium were from Soweto and they had found the imposition of e-tolls had detrimentally impacted on their financial situation and for this they blamed Zuma, the personification of their increasing penury.

If the City Press story was not true, then it was, by any standards, grossly defamatory because it attacked the professional integrity of Matthews, Molete and their immediate superior, Hlaudi Motsoeneng. In effect, it accused them of abrogating their constitutional, legal and ethical obligations, of prostituting their profession, exploiting their colleagues at the stadium for political gain and of bringing the SABC into disrepute.

If the story was not true then one would have expected the three men to immediately issue a statement denying the newspaper’s allegations, to call a press conference and show video clips from news bulletins to refute the City Press claim, to institute civil proceedings for defamation and to register a complaint with the press ombudsman.

Read also: Herbst: The Rise and Rise of Hlaudi Motsoeneng – “Insulting the struggle”

This did not happen even after the Mail & Guardian subsequently repeated the City Press story and provided a previous example of exactly the same thing:

This is not the first time the SABC has veered away from showing footage of crowd booing. In 2005, e.tv aired footage proving that an SABC cameraman was present and filming when then deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka was booed on Women’s Day by Zuma supporters. However, the booing was never shown.

The SABC denied they purposively censored the event, issuing an apology and blaming the freelance cameraman for failing to record the booing. They also accused e.tv of being “bitter”.

The trio, who had shamed their profession, left it to the hapless and usually elusive SABC spokesman, Kaizer Kganyago, to take the heat and, inevitably, he made one cringe.

He described the booing as a “side-story” and, as always, stated that it was up to the SABC’s news division to use its editorial prerogative in deciding what is or is not news.

Comical Ali

So, in the beleaguered mind of broadcasting’s answer to Comical Ali, news coverage is vested not in the Constitution, the Broadcast Act or in the SABC’s code of ethical news gathering and dissemination but in the ideological whims of the ANC acolytes who, as proxies for Luthuli House, control what is broadcast from Auckland Park.

Only three months earlier, Matthews had lied to Glynnis Underhill of the Mail & Guardian by saying that “all the checks and balances” were in place to ensure that the SABC’s news coverage would not become a propaganda tool.

Rhoda Kadalie succinctly summed this up in a Business Day column, “Déjà vu on SA Bootlicking Corporation TV” on 3 March 2005

The SABC’s constant promotion of the ANC on its evening television news bulletins and its constant suppression of any news seen as inimical to its political masters is both illegal and illicit.

It is illegal in terms of chapter three, section 10 (d) of the Broadcasting Act of 1999, which obligates the SABC to “provide significant news and public affairs programming which meets the highest standards of journalism, as well as fair and unbiased coverage, impartiality, balance and independence from government, commercial and other interests”.

It is illicit in terms of the SABC’s own code of news ethics, which compels it to report in a neutral and objective way.

Censorship by omission

William Bird of Media Monitoring Africa gave specific context to the censorship by omission which was manifest when the SABC did not carry the Zuma booing story in its news bulletins on 10 December:

In our view such an omission constitutes a clear breach of the following clauses of the SABC Editorial policies:

  • We report, contextualise, and present news and current affairs honestly by striving to disclose all the essential facts and by not suppressing relevant, available facts, or distorting by wrong or improper emphasis” pg. 20.
  • The Code of Conduct for Broadcasters also requires the SABC to report news truthfully, accurately and objectively. In this regard, the staff may not allow their professional judgment to be influenced by pressures from political, commercial or other sectional interests” pg. 20
  • SABC news staff are expected to present issues fairly, not to take sides, and to afford the public access to the full range of views on a subject. In this regard, editorial staff should not become emotional, or use emotive language, in writing stories or conducting interviews”. Pg. 20

Media Monitoring Africa has viewed the headline news bulletins from SABC1, SABC 2 and SABC 3 and can confirm that no mention of the booing incident was made in any of the bulletins.

It is clear that the incident may perhaps not be the central news story of the day, given the event at which it took place. If we consider the stature of the speaker, the President of South Africa, and the importance of his speech, there can be little doubt that the story was newsworthy.

If true, the decision to deliberately omit the information constitutes a clear violation of the SABC’s Editorial code.

Disgraceful bias

What was most troubling about the disgraceful party political bias of Motsoeneng, Matthews and Molete is that they were more than happy to repeatedly broadcast, in all ethnic languages and around the clock, Helen Zille being booed off stage on 1 November 2013 at the Saldanha Bay Industrial Development Zone by a rowdy crowd of bussed-in ANC supporters while Zuma looked on impassively – but they censored the broadcast when he suffered the same fate.

But the censoring of the booing story by this nefarious cabal was not the most shocking example of media bias – worse was to come and on a far bigger story.

The booing was simply a reflection of the changing dynamics in our local politics – in the world view just an internecine squabble in the ruling party – tensions which are an inherent and integral part of democracy.

The really big story of the Mandela memorial service was that a schizophrenic man with a history of violence and unethical behaviour, Thamsanqa Jantjie, was, without adequate security checking, allowed to stand within metres of world leaders including Barack Obama.

The last time this happened in South Africa was on 6 September, 1966 when Dimitri Tsafendas assassinated Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd in parliament.

At 9:38 on 11 December 2013 Charl Blignaut and Carien du Plessis posted a story on the City Press website about the fact that, the moment the live broadcast of the Nelson Mandela Memorial Service started, complaints flooded in from deaf people all over the world pointing out that the sign language interpreter, Thamsanqa Jantjie, standing only a few metres from international leaders such a President Barack Obama was faking it.

Colossal embarrassment

Not only was it a colossal embarrassment but it was also an unconscionable dereliction of duty by the ANC’s risible “security cluster” which devotes its every waking minute to Nkandla spin and ANC damage control.

By midday on 11 December the story was being broadcast and posted on internet sites throughout the world. Unsurprisingly so because it was an even more scandalous breach of security than the now notorious invasion of Waterkloof Military Airbase by Zuma Inc’s great patrons and benefactors, the partying Guptas.

Locally it was picked up and furiously re-tweeted and eNCA led bulletins with the story.

In its main 7 pm news bulletin eNCA had newsreader Jeremy Maggs interviewing Ingrid Parkin, principal of the St Ingrid School for the Deaf.

Another example: The BBC crossed to its local correspondent, Milton Nkosi who, mentioning the City Press article, brought his audience up to date on both the booing and the bogus sign language interpreter stories.

In the USA, South Africa, quickly became a joke.

But, unsurprisingly, the state broadcaster controlled by Hlaudi Motsoeneng and his ever-willing and ever-supportive deputy Jimi Matthews, ensured that just as the booing had been suppressed on all SABC bulletins the previous day so, too, was this story.

By early the next morning, 12 December, Radio 702 had had traced Jantjie to his home in Soweto and he was interviewed by Jon Robbie.

He was subsequently interviewed by Michelle Clifford, senior correspondent with Sky News and also by Associated Press.

No effort

By 15:54 the BBC posted a clip on its website of its reporter Ros Atkins interviewing Jantjie – but the SABC the biggest news organisation in the country with an estimated audience of some 30 million people – had, as yet, made no effort to cover a story which had broken a day and half before.

Faithfully, stoically, Motsoeneng, Matthews and Molete, ANC lackeys one and all, waited for the go-ahead from their political masters. It came two days later when Deputy Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Ms Henrietta Bogopane-Zulu called a press conference – strangely enough this was not held at the GCIS offices in Pretoria but at the SABC headquarters in Auckland Park.

With typical arrogance she told the world media that the ANC had nothing to be embarrassed about, something which left local journalists such as Greg Nicolson of Daily Maverick feeling ashamed.

That night, a comparison between the main 7 pm television news bulletins of eNCA and the SABC was telling.

eNCA led the bulletin with the Jantjie story with reporter Karyn Maughn providing context and information on his violent background and it then carried an interview with Jantjie.

SABC’s equivalent bulletin carried only the press conference – after the main advertisement break – with a brief, anodyne sound bite from the truculent minister and made no attempt to interview Jantjie even though he had been available for interviews more than twelve hours earlier and lived little more than an hour’s drive from Auckland Park.

The story cried out for second-phase journalism and, with the exception of the state broadcaster, South African reporters were not found wanting.

The next morning, 13 December, the Daily Dispatch revealed how Jantjie had dropped out of primary school and never went to high school.

Damning evidence

At midday eNCA broadcast a story by its specialist court reporter, Karyn Maughn, which revealed that Jantjie had faced charges of rape (1994), theft (1995), housebreaking (1997), malicious damage to property (1998) and murder, attempted murder and kidnapping (2003). She also revealed that many of the charges were dropped because he was considered mentally unfit to stand trial. That night, more than seven hours after this damning evidence had been revealed by its rival, Motsoeneng and Matthews continued to observe the strict embargo placed on this story by the ANC.

On December 15 the Sunday Times revealed that Jantjie, in an interview with the newspaper, acknowledged that, a decade earlier, he had been part of a mob that burnt a man to death. The newspaper also revealed that the company that employed Jantjie, South African Interpreters, was owned by the head of the ANC’s religious and traditional affairs desk, Bantubahle Xozwa and that his wife, Cikizwa Xozwa, was the office manager for then ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu. They also revealed that complaints had been lodged with the ANC about Jantjie’s ineptitude by the South African Deaf Federation almost two years ago at the ANC’s centenary celebration in Mangaung – without acknowledgment or response.

However, if you were one of the millions of people reliant on the SABC for your news you would have been unaware of any of these “side stories” because the ever-faithful and compliant state broadcaster had done no follow-up work or investigative reporting on this story at all because this did not reflect well on the ANC.

Darkest hour

All the world’s top news agencies and reporters from every continent were in South Africa for the final farewell to a global icon and they brought to the attention of more than a billion people just how corrupt the ANC-controlled state broadcaster is. This was the darkest hour of the Motsoeneng-Matthews cabal and it did incalculable damage to our country’s already damaged reputation, but this time in the context of media freedom.

To this day, the state broadcaster has never interviewed Thamsanqa Jantjie, just as it has never re-broadcast its live footage of Zuma being booed.

This was just one of the many examples of censorship by omission, of the routine cover-ups, by Jimi Matthews which started before Motsoeneng’s rise to power. Exactly the same thing happened in the SABC’s Cape Town news office where, for more than decade, the Regional Editor, Jeffrey Twala, politically exploited his radio and television news reporters by forbidding any news coverage which reflected adversely on the ANC while using us as pawns to relentlessly undermine the Democratic Alliance. Matthews was fully aware of this situation, and the appalling psychological and verbal abuse Twala’s staff endured, but he did nothing because it was not in his personal or professional interests to intervene. He was happy to allow this abuse to continue because Twala was protecting and promoting the ANC and doing as much damage to the official opposition as possible.

Seeks exculpation

Now, having for more than a decade drawn a R2 million annual salary that virtually all journalists can only dream of, having failed to provide ethical leadership and to protect his staff, the indelibly-tainted Matthews leaves the sinking ship, with the bitter condemnation of his colleague Lukhanyo Calata ringing in his ears and seeks exculpation and a return to the moral high ground.

This has, understandably, not been well received.

As international pressure was ramped up the ANC made a minor concession with spokesperson Zizi Kodwa finally, it seems, ad idem with Makhudu Sefara who feels that the man so loved by Baba insults the Struggle.

Kodwa said there was no place for censorship in a constitutional democracy but then diminished his already negligible credibility by describing Zwelinzima Vavi as “right wing” because he also happens to have reservations about Motsoeneng. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Vavi and other protestors in the picket outside the SABC in Auckland Park on 1 July was former ANC MP Barbara Hogan. Presumably that makes her “right wing” as well?

On 2 July the headline on front page lead in Die Burger provided an epitaph for Matthews and, eventually, for Motsoeneng when his court options are exhausted.

Die Burger front page Saturday July 2, 2016
Die Burger front page Saturday July 2, 2016

“SABC condemned world-wide”

The article said that, in a joint letter to Motsoeneng, the World Editors Forum and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers had called on him to withdraw the disciplinary charges against dissenting journalists.

How ironic. Here is what Cyril Ramaphosa said about the SABC in 1992:

“If the SABC is to play a constructive role ahead of our country’s first experience with democracy, informing the electorate rather than attempting to persuade them to vote for a particular political party, it is necessary to replace those who currently control the SABC with others who are committed to democracy and to an electorate empowered by accurate and impartial information.”

Unsurprisingly, the ANC has refused a Democratic Alliance request for an urgent meeting over the SABC crisis, saying this can only happen in a month’s time – after the August 3 election…