Solidarity Secretary Dirk Hermann speaks to reporters at the Labour Court in Johannesburg. With him is Foeta Krige, Jacques Steenkamp and Suna Venter.
JOHANNESBURG - Senior SABC journalists who were among those dismissed by the public broadcaster on Thursday vowed to fight for freedom of expression and a better working environment at the public broadcaster.
"We are encouraged by the ruling regarding the Helen Suzman Foundation (JSF) matter, but we are saying that is not enough, we’re still going forward to the Constitutional Court. The issue for us is about the court making sure that our freedom of expression is entrenched," Busisiwe Ntuli said outside the Labour Court in Johannesburg.
She said the SABC’s ban on showing footage of violent protests could be followed by another controversial decision by management at any time, and believed that only the Constitutional Court could undo what was happening at the public broadcaster.
Another journalist who has fired by the broadcaster, Thandeka Gqubule, said the editorial decision on violent protests was part of "a slew of draconian and anti-journalistic" policies at the public broadcaster.
"You can withdraw the violent protest policy but still have an environment that is not conducive to the practice of ethical journalism at the SABC. We do not see how the striking down of that policy alone can resolve the problem of a corrosive environment and the other forms of censorship that continue to prevail."
The two were in court to lend support to their four colleagues – Jacques Steenkamp, Krivani Pillay, Suna Venter and Foeta Krige – who filed an urgent application to have their dismissals set aside by the Labour Court.
The eight senior journalists, who included Vuyo Mvoko and Lukhanyo Calata, were sent termination letters by the public broadcaster on Monday. They have also approached the Constitutional Court for direct access to argue to have the ban on airing footage of violence reversed.
Earlier, the SABC’s legal representative, advocate Bantubonke Tokota, came under fire in the Labour Court for not filing answering papers. Judge Robert Le Grange said he could not understand why the public broadcaster did not avail itself and give instructions to Tokota. He postponed the matter to Friday and instructed the SABC to file answering affidavits by 7pm on Thursday.
Trade union Solidarity secretary Dirk Hermann said the SABC came to court unprepared, ignoring legal and court processes.
"We heard that the counsel could not even get hold of management to get instructions. We did not expect anything more from the SABC, it is as if they think management can trump legal processes and principles. This is exactly the kind of conduct that led to the dismissal of journalists without any hearing," Hermann told reporters outside court.
Solidarity represented Steenkamp, Pillay, Krige and Venter.
Hermann said his union would win the Labour Court case.
"We are on the right side of the argument and we expect from the SABC to welcome these journalists back, because it is now very clear that their conduct is wrong and unlawful… it was not in line with the constitutional principles."
In a surprising move in the North Gauteng High Court on Wednesday, the SABC made a U-turn and said it would rescind its decision not to show violent protest footage in a case brought before court by the Helen Suzman Foundation. The public broadcaster negotiated and reached a settlement with the HSF in court.
The SABC has been under fire over the decision to ban footage of violent protests that was implemented a few weeks ago as the country prepares for local government elections on August 3. Opposition parties say it smacks of censorship.
Chief operations officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng and the SABC board had earlier stuck to their guns, saying the decision to ban such footage was not going to be reversed as recommended by the Independent Communication Authority of SA.
Motsoeneng was adamant that "no one tells the SABC what to do".