Turmoil at one of Africa’s largest broadcaster amid retrenchments

AFRICAN MIRROR REPORTER

THE South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), one of Africa’s biggest broadcasters, is pressing ahead with retrenchments which are expected to lead to over 450 media workers losing their jobs.

The retrenchments have led to protest action by SABC employees and a disruption of the public broadcaster’s service. Workers have also threatened a full blown strike which could lead to a total black out of TV and radio services on which millions of South Africans depend.

On Tuesday, member of the SABC newsroom head a heated meeting with their boss – head of news Pathiswa Magopeni – who made an impromptu announcement that redundancy letters to staff would be halted. That decision was overturned today. SABC Group Head of Human Resources, Mojaki Mosia, has issued an internal memorandum in which he said: In the light of the unfortunate incident which took place at our news division last night, please not that the section 189 process is continuing as planned.”

Footage of a heated meeting in the SABC’s newsroom in Auckland Park, Johannesburg, made the headline news and went viral on social media. In the footage, senior reporter and anchor Chriselda Lewis is heard making an impassionate plea to head of news Pathiswa Magopeni to reconsider the retrenchments.

The clip ends with Magopeni’s impromptu announcement that she would retract the retrenchment letters to newsroom staff. The announcement was greeted with applause and excitement.

The meeting followed protest action by the SABC newsroom staff on Monday against a new structure introduced by Magopeni, which does away with a number of posts, to save costs.

As part of its turnaround strategy, the SABC plans to retrench 400 of its almost 3 000 employees.

The action by the SABC journalists have received support fron the ANC and its alliance partners, the SA Communist Party and Cosatu.

The secretaries-general of the three organisations, Ace Magashule (ANC), Solly Mapaila (SACP) and Bheki Ntshalintshali (Cosatu) held a special meeting to discuss the situation at the SABC.

The trio – described as the Alliance Secretariat – expressed solidarity with the workers and said they were opposed to any weakening of the SABC, its public broadcasting mandate and its subordination to commercial interests. 

“The meeting reaffirmed the Alliance’s shared stance to protect public broadcasting against exploitation by commercial interests. The wrong things that those who were in charge at the SABC did in the past remain wrong, regardless of new approaches to sanitize the endgame using pieces of legislation.  State capture by private corporations globally does not take one form only, the widely and correctly condemned brazen smash and grab agenda. Privatisation, as well as outsourcing, has historically been used as an entry point to convey public assets and resources, and the functions of public administration and entities to private corporations to enrich the beneficiaries. 

“The capture of the policy space or regulatory capture by such private interests is very much part and parcel of state capture activities. That does extend into the sphere of policy implementation and manifests itself in the use of legislation to achieve the same ends. It is therefore important to be vigilant at all times and foster public scrutiny to strengthen and deepen democracy regardless of who is in charge, including at public institutions such as the SABC.  The Alliance Secretariat denounced the intransigence displayed by those driving retrenchments and neoliberal restructuring at the SABC.”

The South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) is concerned about the instability at the SABC after the announcement of impending retrenchments.

SANEF said it would seek a meeting with the SABC management to get a deeper understanding of its restructuring plans and its vision for the future of the public broadcaster. In a statement, SANEF said: “We note that Section 189 notices to the newsroom staff have temporarily been withdrawn.

Since President Cyril Ramaphosa declared the Coronavirus pandemic a national disaster on 23 March 2020, more than 700 jobs have been lost in the media industry. In the first two months of the lockdown we saw the closure of two magazine publishers and 80 small print publications operating across the country.

SANEF notes with deep concern that in many newsrooms around the country, journalists are simply not replaced, resulting in a diminished capacity to cover the length and breadth of the country. With the prevailing tough economic conditions, advertising revenue has declined dramatically, and the bulk of digital advertising revenue leaves the country’s shores to Facebook and Google.

“It is not just the COVID-19 crisis that has decimated the media sector. In the past three years, scores of journalists lost their jobs due to retrenchments by the then Tiso Blackstar, Media24, Independent Media and the shutdown of Afro Worldview, previously known as ANN7, by MultiChoice. Titles like The Times and HuffPost SA were closed, which diminished the diversity of voices in South Africa.  We call on media owners to think creatively and responsibly about implementing new, sustainable  business models, built on the integrity and the trust that our readers, viewers and listeners place in us to tell the country’s stories without fear or favour.”

 

 

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