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Media ethics: Right of reply is crucial, says advisor after Primedia inquiry

The inquiry followed allegations of censorship and editorial interference lodged by former 702 host Karima Brown against her former station manager.

FILE: Journalists at a press conference. Picture: EWN.

JOHANNESBURG – An adviser who assisted in an independent inquiry commissioned into editorial interference at Primedia Broadcasting on Thursday said their findings had implications for talk show hosts in affording individuals right of reply.

“I think where one needs to be careful is where one is drawing adverse inferences about individuals before having any real evidence… while it’s important to fill in the gaps and build a picture over time, you have to be really careful about jumping into conclusions,” Professor Franz Krüger said in an interview on 702’s Afternoon Drive with Joanne Joseph on Thursday.

Krüger said former 702 host Karima Brown was found to have breached the provisions of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa's (BCCSA) code because the people mentioned weren’t individually afforded the opportunity to comment on the "links" Brown made on her show in November last year.

“The evidence that was given to the inquiry, and as reflected in the report, was that approaches were made to MultiChoice and the SABC at a corporate level, but not to the individuals who ended up being named,” Krüger said.

“I think it will be important for people in talk radio to consider what the implications are. There are some recommendations [in the report] about processes and how to deal with these sorts of things. And I do think companies that run talk radio stations need to think about what these existing provisions in the [BCCSA] code and other ethical provisions mean in the specific context of live talk radio,” he added.

The inquiry, which was chaired by Advocate Terry Motau SC, followed allegations of censorship and editorial interference lodged by Brown against her former station manager, Thabisile Mbete, two days after her contract was not renewed in June this year as the host of the Karima Brown Show.

The inquiry’s report was released on Wednesday and made recommendations regarding possible amendments and improvements to Primedia’s editorial policies and procedures, which included the induction of its employees and staff about its policies, the improvement of channels for audience complaints, and the handling of complaints and feedback.

The talk radio station said her contract was terminated following an objective analysis to focus resources on daytime shows, according to the report. 702 officials also told the inquiry the station manager was not solely responsible for the renewal of presenter’s contracts.

The report stated: “The reasons provided for her termination were that the station wanted to focus on daytime and also that the station was departing from specialised subject matters towards general subject matters, which was in support of the strategy going forward.

“There were no ill feelings between the parties. Ms Brown stated that she had no issue with what was communicated to her because she understood that is how business works.”

Speaking to News24 on Wednesday following the report’s release, Brown claimed the document was “a cover-up”, and reportedly said 702 failed to institute disciplinary action against her.

But Krüger was puzzled by this, telling Joseph the process was “completely independent”.

“I really don’t understand on what basis she makes that comment. Advocate Terry Motau is an independent advocate. He was given a brief and we were brought in, and I’m not at all clear why she says that’s a cover-up,” he said.

CONTEXT

According to the report, the allegations by Brown originated from a discussion on her show on 12 November 2018 around a Competition Commission report, which the commission had filed with the Competition Tribunal regarding a channel supply agreement entered between MultiChoice and the SABC in July 2013.

Brown mentioned five individuals and spoke about their employment history and employers, which created an impression of links between their relationship with MultiChoice and the SABC, according to the inquiry’s report.

The report said the people mentioned were former SABC spokesperson Neo Momodu, former SABC board member Mathatha Tsedu, veteran journalist Joe Thloloe, Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe and MultiChoice CEO Calvo Mawela.

Following the broadcast, those mentioned complained about the comments made by Brown, saying they were unfair and that they were not given a right of reply, the report said. But Brown claimed the SABC and MultiChoice refused requests for right of reply ahead of the show.

According to the inquiry’s report, Mbete instructed Brown and her producer to offer the individuals a right of reply and to invite them on to the show which they did not do. It was these events that Brown contended constituted censorship and editorial interference from Mbete, according to the document.

The inquiry found that the criticism of the five people without them commenting on the links Brown made breached the BCCSA code in terms of comment; controversial issues of public importance; as well as privacy, dignity and reputation.

Advocate Motau stated in his report: “While it clearly was Ms Brown's right to comment on the commission's report as an event of public importance, her adverse mention of the five individuals was in my view not protected comment. This is because the facts underlying the comment were not true.”

Attempts by Eyewitness News to reach Brown were unsuccessful.

Read the Report on Primedia’s inquiry into allegations of censorship and editorial interference by Karima Brown below:

Primedia Final Report 17092019 by Janice Healing on Scribd

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