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News24.com | 'Frogmarched out': Fired SABC news head says her axing was part of much bigger problem

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Phathiswa Magopeni.


Phathiswa Magopeni.

Veli Nhlapo, Gallo Images

  • Former SABC head of news Phathiswa Magopeni said her dismissal showed that a culture of flouting due process had taken hold at the broadcaster.
  • She recounted that when she was dismissed the SABC CEO Madoda Mxakwe gave her a dismissal letter and she was escorted off the premises by guards.
  • She said when she was head of news, the SABC newsroom worked freely on its journalism with no fear of undue influence.
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Former SABC head of news and veteran journalist, Phathiswa Magopeni, told Parliament that her dismissal from the public service broadcaster underscored a culture of flouting due process and procedure that had taken hold at the SABC.

Magopeni was speaking to the subcommittee of Parliament, which was interviewing candidates for a new SABC board on Thursday evening. MPs are interviewing 37 hopefuls in order to appoint 12 people to a new SABC board, which is set to be formed by mid-October, when the term of the current board expires.

Magopeni was axed by the SABC earlier this year on the grounds that she was allegedly negligent and brought the public service broadcaster into disrepute following the airing of an interdicted episode of the investigative journalism show, Special Assignment.

After Magopeni was dismissed, she successfully challenged this at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

While she was not reinstated, she reportedly received a payout from the public service broadcaster. Magopeni recounted how she was marshalled off of the SABC premises by guards on the day of her dismissal, saying she was “frogmarched” out.

READ | Suspended property regulator boss, axed head of news crack SABC board shortlist

Magopeni said the commercial imperative of strengthening democracy and the broadcaster’s social mission are intertwined. She said the SABC’s task that the incoming board must consider is to record and document the memory, values, and history of South Africa’s citizens.

“I sought to create an environment that encourages and seeks to create editorial freedom and respects South Africans. I sought to deliver content that empowers South Africans to confront its challenges. I relied on the editorial guides and the charter,” said Magopeni.

Magopeni said she believed that the SABC is well-placed to achieve its mandate if the incoming board functions as it should. ANC MP Mike Basopu asked Magopeni about the circumstances behind her dismissal and why she wanted to return to the institution that dismissed her.

Magopeni said her dismissal occurred after the disciplinary hearing over the airing of an interdicted episode of Special Assignment, she was to get a written warning. On her dismissal, she said the details of her disciplinary report were inconsistent with the grounds of her dismissal.

“I was expected to mitigate to the applicant, who was also submitting to me the aggravating circumstances of my case. My lawyers said this falls outside of the disciplinary code. It was the group CEO that wrote me that letter that said I was dismissed.

“Basically, I was frogmarched out of the building,” Magopeni said.

READ | R3.2 billion failed to bail out SABC, oversight committee hears

She said there was enough in place in terms of policies and systems to prevent future state capture. What cannot be prevented, Magopeni said, is “how individuals conduct themselves”. She said her dismissal was a sign of how people will flout procedures to impose their will on public institutions.

“There is a lot of work that still needs to be done within the SABC in terms of how it functions and serves South African citizens. Having done this work and knowing the role it has in supporting democracy, I believe I have a role to play,” she said.

Magopeni said the board must continue to ask questions about the state of the broadcaster, especially once challenges become public. She said the incoming board should take a proactive approach to problem-solving and accountability.

Magopeni said while she is not privy to the current state of the SABC newsroom, she created an environment where journalists and editors could do their work and debate freely. She said the incoming board needs to reflect on platform revenue strategies to make access content, make it more accessible, and generate more revenue. 

She said the retrenchments that the SABC underwent last year were done in haste without due consideration to the broadcaster’s skills needs.



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