The South African media made a successful push against the country’s increasing clamp downs on press freedom in Parliament on 24 August when the SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) obtained an interim interdict to halt a parliamentary portfolio committee meeting in Cape Town.
The press had been barred from the meeting which was to focus on the stand-off between the SABC board and its chairman Dr Ben Ngubane and the GCEO Solly Mokoetle.
Several media reported that on the same day the SABC board served Mokoetle, who has been in office since January this year, with a legal letter announcing their intention to suspend him.
On 25 August the SABC issued a press statement sent on behalf of Ngubane refuting that Mokoetle had been suspended. The statement reads: “The Chairperson would like to put it on record that Mokoetle has not been suspended but the Board has asked him to provide reasons why he should not be suspended. Mokoetle is expected to submit his response to the Board. The Board will then consider his response after which they will respond and communicate accordingly.’
The friction between the board and Nugubane and Mokoetle was sparked by the pair’s allegedly irregular appointment of Phil Molefe as SABC head of news without the board’s approval.
Following the court order, Ismail Vadi, the chairman of Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications suspended the meeting with the SABC indefinitely. He said it was necessary for him to discuss the matter with parliament.
However, by the time the meeting had been stopped, Dr Nugane had apparently already presented his case to the portfolio committee.
Sanef’s secretary general Gaye Davis said that if the meeting has been allowed to proceed behind closed doors it would have set a dangerous precedent.
"The SABC is resourced with public funds, and the public has a clear interest in its functioning and a right to information concerning the affairs of the SABC," she is quoted as saying in The Times.
The ruling follows on strong criticism by the media, business leaders and NGOs for the ANC to call off its media tribunal proposal and to rethink the scope of the controversial Protection of Information Bill.