PRESS RELEASE

6-5-99 : MAX du PREEZ AND THE SABC BOARD INVESTIGATION INTO EDITORIAL INDEPENDENCE


  

The Friends of the Public Broadcaster welcomes the decision of the SABC Board to investigate issues of editorial independence, presumably in news and current affairs. We are, however, surprised at the silence concerning our other demands contained in our submissions to the SABC Board made on Wednesday (5 May 1999).

IN our submission we dealth with the Max du Preez's unfair dismissal and the various transgressions of editorial independence preceding and subsequent to his dismissal. IN our appeal we pointed out our concern at how the public broadcaster in dealing with Max du Preez : 1. compromised the values and vision of the SABC in particular; commitment to the truth, transparency, balanced coverage, accountability to listerners and viewers etc. 2. Failed to give him a an opportunity to state his case before dismissing him. (His dismissal is an unfair labour practice and we pointed out - is indicative of the plight of many SABC staffers who have been treated in this manner. 3. used the public broadcaster to settle their own petty fights with Max; denying him his say, and by recent reports pressurizing those who chose to present fair and balanced reports on the alleged dispute.This matter is before the Broadcasting Complaints Commission on 13 May 1999 at 13:30. 4. punished those who worked with him, in particular black documentary film makers of the "pulled" withcraft programme (Special Assignment). They have been allegedly "blacklisted" and told that they " will never work for the SABC again."

Finally we called on the Board

*. To reinstate Max du Preez to his position as Executive Producer and Presenter of Special Assignment, with immediate effect.

* To institute an independent investigation into management-worker relations at the SABC with particular reference to the roles of all relevant managers in the Max du Preez matter. This task could be entrusted to a senior judge or a senior accredited mediator. We are available to assist the Board in this process.

* To investigate the abuse of public trust and independence by members of line management. We recommend that Max du Preez be treated as a starting point for a general investigation.

* We further call on the Board to disassociate themselves from the SABC management in relation to the above issue, as relevant management in this dispute were at all times advised of the just and lawful position as regards the contract / labour relations issue; as well as the public interest obligations in the news coverage of the alleged dispute. Yet, senior managers of the SABC (mentioned above) sided with a series of interventions that clearly conflicted with the public interest. Therefore, they should be held accountable for any costs and obligations arising from this dispute.

We Remain Optimistic

We however, are willing to give the Board a chance to resolve matters in the public interest Any attempts to get the public broadcaster working for the people must be encouraged and we will be watching and are willing to make representations to the enquiry.

We would however, need to know as a matter of urgency: - will this investigation be open to the public? where? What times?etc. - will the likes of Max du Preez, Joe Tholoe, Sarah Crowe and others be invited to participate? - will members of the public and organisations such as Friends be invited to make presentations?

We must not take away the fact that this is a victory for all viewers and listeners of the public broadcaster, and particularly "Friends" since it was us who lodged the formal complaint to the Board on Wednesday, seeking interalia Max du Preez's immediate and unconditional reinstatement.

Files comprising over 90 pages, were prepared for every board member on many aspects of the dispute was handed to the Board. We have attached only an indication of what was contained therein; and these are: table of contents, letter of appeal to Board / introduction to the file and s ection 8 of the file (Chris Louw). IN the interim our various initiatives introduced prior to the Board meeting will continue.

Issued by Hassen Lorgat Convenor Friends

083 540 0014

Appeal to the SABC Board against the unfair dismissal of Max du Preez

We the undersigned organisations as well as Max du Preez in his personal capacity make this appeal to the SABC Board.

The Friends of the Public Broadcaster, a newly formed organisation met with the SABC CEO on 8 April 1999 to present our credentials and outline our objectives.

As fate had it, soon afterwards we were called upon to represent the interests of critical, independent and progressive broadcaster Max du Preez. Accordingly we now have the backing of a range of organisations including the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI), Human Rights Institute of South Africa, Re-instate Max du Preez Committee, Workers Library and Museum, South African Union of Journalists (SAUJ) and various individuals. A sample of supporters' letters is attached.

The SABC Board

We believe the Board is the custodian of the public interest, is expressly tasked to maintain the independence and guarantee the impartiality of the Public Broadcaster, and to help it fulfil its public service mandate. The Broadcast Act, and its own vision and values statement (1996 annual report of the SABC) commit the SABC interalia to the following:

VALUES

Accountability to the full spectrum of the South African public for providing accessible, high-quality broadcasting services. Commitment to the truth. Impartiality, equitability and fairness to all people without regard to any divisive features or characteristics. Integrity, transparency and trust in all relationships. Professionalism in quality, efficiency, reliability, management and financial accountability. Equity and equal opportunities in all employment programmes and practices. Commitment to the independence and autonomy of the SABC.

VISION

South Africa, deeply divided and emerging from an apartheid structure, is striving for democracy and the elimination of discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age, disability, religion, class or language. In this context, a public broadcaster has to play a prominent role in supporting that process.

Accordingly, the SABC will: be an impartial public broadcaster that continually develops its independence and autonomy while being responsive to the needs of the public to which it is accountable; be fair and just to all the peoples of South Africa, irrespective of any divisive features or characteristics. To this end it will be affirmative in its approach in addressing historical imbalances, and will consciously address itself to playing a positive healing role and developing a common South Africanness; deliver accessible broadcasting services of equal quality to the full spectrum of its audience; maintain an editorial policy and ethos that corresponds to its values and vision and through which society is portrayed consistently to itself, in its diversity; have a culture and mind set consistent with its values and vision; be a fair employer with exemplary labour practices, with staffing at all levels being reflective of South African society and maintaining appropriately high levels of competence.

It is our view that the above values and vision of the SABC has been seriously transgressed in the manner that Max du Preez was dismissed. Much of this will be contained in the statement by Max du Preez (attached). A few salient points deserve highlighting.

role and function of public broadcaster

Fair and just labour practices

1. Max du Preez and his team had an expectation that their contracts were going to be renewed and the Special Assignment Programme has already been scheduled by SABC 3 with this in mind. He had worked at the SABC from 1994, and his work was of excellent quality. 2. Max du Preez was dismissed without any of the elements of a fair hearing been afforded; viz charges being presented to him in advance, and the right to cross examine his accusers, the right to be represented by a person of his choice etc, as the Labour Relations Act demands

2.1. Of particular concern are reports that the decision to dismiss Max du Preez was endorsed by the CEO of the SABC and others the Group Executive, which comprises: Rev Hawu Mbatha, CEO of the SABC Head of Radio Ms Challotte Mampane, Head of TV Mr Molefe Mogatle, Head of Human Resource Anton Heunis, Chief Operating Officer Neil Harvey, Head of Advertising Trevor Ormerod, Chief Legal Advisor Ronnie Bracks.

3. The reasons for his dismissal - presented on SABC news programmes - appears to be spurious. If indeed the reasons presented were authentic, why was the internal disciplinary code not invoked? Why wait a few months after the alleged episode before deciding that the alleged episode warranted such drastic action? Surely this is not how a fair employer with exemplary labour practices operates.

Impartiality Editorial independence fulfil the public mandate

4. This brings us to the complaint about the SABC news coverage on the issue. In this regard a few points will suffice: 4.1. A fuller complaint has been outlined for the consideration of the BCCSA on 13 May 1999. 4.2. In the main - the complaint raises the blatant disregard of SABC News to fair and balanced reporting. Subsequent to Max du Preez's dismissal other journalists appear to have become the victim of intimidation by certain managment figures, after they had sought to provide listerners and viewers with a fair and balanced account of the du Preez issue. (One recent example is reflected in the bundle Marked...)

It would be instructive for the Board to look particularly at the 8 pm news broadcast on date 19 May 1999; and then refer to the complaint and Max du Preez's statement. The lawyers request to have Max say his say was reintepreted as attempts by the lawyers' to stop the broadcast.

This whole episode exhibits the blatant transgression of several of the values which the Board has been entrusted to uphold; including:

Accountability to the full spectrum of the South African public for providing accessible, high-quality broadcasting services. Commitment to the truth. Impartiality, equitability and fairness to all people without regard to any divisive features or characteristics. Integrity, transparency and trust in all relationships. Professionalism in quality, efficiency, reliability, management and financial accountability. Equity and equal opportunities in all employment programmes and practices. Commitment to the independence and autonomy of the SABC.

We therefore call on the Board

1. To reinstate Max du Preez to his position as Executive Producer and Presenter of Special Assignment, with immediate effect.

2. That an independent investigation be instituted into the management - labour relations at the SABC with particular reference to the role of all relevant management in the Max du Preez matter. A senior judge or a senior accreditted mediator, we believe will be able to acccomplish this task as a matter of urgency. We are available to assist the Board in this process.

3. investigate the abuse of public trust and independence by members of line management. We recommend that Max du Preez be treated as a starting point for a general investigation.

4.We further call on the Board to dissassociate themselves from the SABC management in the above issue, as relevant management in this dispute were at all times advised of the just and lawful position (as regards the contract / labour relations issue) as well as the public interest obligations in the news coverage of the alleged dispute. The senior management of the SABC (mentioned above) chose against the public interest and therefore should be personally held accountable for any costs, and obligations arising from this dispute.

Signed Hassen Lorgat Convenor