SABC acting CEO Jimi Matthews resigns

Jimi Matthews says the corrosive atmosphere at the SABC has impacted negatively on his moral judgement.

The SABC offices in Auckland Park, Johannesburg. Picture: Christa Eybers/EWN.

CAPE TOWN - Acting South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) chief executive officer (CEO) Jimi Matthews has quit the public broadcaster.

He tweeted a picture of his resignation letter a short while ago, saying the corrosive atmosphere at the SABC has impacted negatively on his moral judgement.

In the letter Matthews says, "For many months I have compromised the values that I hold dear under the mistaken belief that I could be more effective inside the SABC than outside."

He also apologised to the many people he had let down by remaining silent.

"What is happening at the SABC is wrong and I can longer be part of it."

Spokesperson for the broadcaster Kaizer Kganyago says he is unaware of Matthews' resignation at this stage.

Matthews took over from Frans Matlala who was suspended barely five months after being appointed to take charge of the broadcaster last year.

When he was appointed, Matlala became the SABC's ninth CEO (including those who were appointed in an acting capacity) since 2009.

His resignation comes just days after three SABC journalists were suspended, allegedly for disagreeing with an instruction not to cover anti-censorship protests at the public broadcaster.

The public broadcaster insisted that this policy did not amount to self-censorship.

Media Monitoring Africa's William Bird said, "Not only would they have an incredibly strong case against the SABC with the CCMA, but I think that this constitutes a very, very clear and dangerous threat to media freedom in our country."

The South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) said it was shocked by the suspensions.

Sanef's Adriaan Basson added that the forum will write to the SABC, urging it to respect the rights of freedom of thought and expression.

SANEF RESPONDS

The SA National Editors Forum (Sanef) has commended Matthews for his resignation.

Sanef says that Matthews was at least on paper the most senior official of the corporation.

"That he feels there is a corrosive atmosphere that he as the CEO cannot do anything about speaks volumes about corporate governance within the SABC.

"The SABC is an asset of the South African public as a whole and that it is being turned into a state broadcaster that only serves the interests of the ruling party is wrong and must be condemned."

The forum says that in just the past month alone, visuals of violent incidents were banned, staff were told not to use stories that spoke ill of President Jacob Zuma, and three staff members who expressed a dissenting opinion on these issues were suspended.

"The apartheid regime, through omissions and commission used the SABC, as a propaganda tool but was not able to dupe the South African public. It is the public that is short changed by this misuse of state resources and it is in the end the public that must ensure it fulfils its constitutional role as a public broadcaster."

It called on SABC leadership to urgently reverse its decision to censor the news and allow its journalists to work in a free environment that does not compromise their ethics.

Media Monitoring Africa together with three other civil organisations have been presenting their cases against the SABC to Independent Communications Authority of South Africa's (Icasa) complaints committee.

The SABC argued last week, that while it will not be airing footage of violent protests, this will not impact on factual reporting by the public broadcaster.

It presented its reasoning behind the decision not to broadcast footage of violent protests where property is destroyed.

In a statement to by COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng last month, he said the reason was to prevent copycat behaviour.

The SABC also said broadcasting footage of violent protests was affecting brand South Africa internationally and discouraging foreign investment.

SABC representative Bantubonke Dakota said the SABC would show images of destruction of property, but only after the incidents, to prevent different communities copying what they saw on TV.

He added that while protesters vandalising property would not be aired, the result of the protest would be broadcast.