'Motsoeneng is conducting a reign of terror at SABC'

Matthews has told the 'City Press' that Motseneng “is conducting a reign of terror at the SABC.

A screengrab showing acting SABC chief executive officer Jimi Matthews.

JOHANNESBURG - Former South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) acting CEO Jimi Matthews has broken his silence for the first time since his resignation from the public broadcaster, saying COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng has been "exercising unbridled power".

Matthews, who resigned from his position on Monday, told the City Press his position had been reduced to rubber stamping, as per Motsoeneng's instruction.

Since the COO announced changes to the SABC's editorial policy, prohibiting the broadcasting of violent visuals during protests, six journalists have been suspended or are facing an internal disciplinary action.

Matthews has told the City Press that Motsoeneng "is conducting a reign of terror at the SABC, where people are being bludgeoned to toe the line".

Matthews says there's a climate of fear at the public broadcaster, with journalists and other staff being threatened to lose their jobs if they don't do as Motsoeneng says.

The former acting CEO says mounting pressure from numerous court cases and criticism to the SABC's editorial policy has led Motseoneng to take refuge in a personality cult, telling people that he is the SABC and the SABC is him.

The paper says it spoke to other senior management at the broadcaster, who have corroborated Matthews's story, with one adding that after threatening to approach the board, Motsoeneg told him that he is the board.

On Monday, Matthews posted his resignation letter on Twitter, apologising for his complicity in decisions made under what he calls the Motsoeneng regime.

In the letter Matthews said, "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."

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 came 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.

SANEF PLANS TO MEET WITH MPS

The South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) said it plans to meet with Members of Parliament to discuss concerns about censorship and suppression of freedom of speech at the SABC.

The SABC's management has come up against opposition from the media industry and civil society, for cracking down on journalists who speak up about censorship at the broadcaster.

Demonstrations were held outside SABC offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town on Friday, in support of staff there.

Sanef's Adrian Basson said, "So what we'll do next is to engage the role players, including Parliament Portfolio Committee on Communication. We'll also engage other role player like Mr. Jimi Matthews, the former acting CEO and head of news who resigned from the SABC this week."

CASAC URGES PARLIAMENT TO INTERVENE

The Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac) has called on Parliament to urgently reconvene the portfolio committee on communications to address concerns of censorship at the SABC.

Casac said the public broadcaster has a constitutional obligation to provide fair and objective reporting.

Casac's Lawson Naidoo said Parliament needs to intervene to ensure the SABC fulfils its constitutional obligation.

"This is an opportunity for Parliament to chow that it does take its oversight responsibility seriously and we believe that Parliament should urgently reconvene the portfolio committee and communication in order to discuss the crisis at the SABC."