SABC denies misleading the nation on sabotage claim after Ramaphosa’s rehearsal address was broadcast

The SABC has denied the allegation that the broadcaster misled the nation with the claim that the broadcasting of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s incorrect address on 5 September 2019 was an act of sabotage.

The Mail & Guardian reported on Friday that what led to the blunder of the corporation broadcasting the president’s rehearsal of his address last year, which was on gender-based violence (GBV), was “errors and sheer incompetence” at the public broadcaster.

The publication reported that sources provided it with evidence, including recordings, that prove that the broadcasting of the incorrect clip – the rehearsal by Ramaphosa – was not an act of sabotage.

One of the recordings is of a meeting attended by the head of news at the SABC Phathiswa Magopeni, foreign editor, who was the head of news on 5 September 2019, Sophie Mokoena, output editor Njanji Chauke, the executive producer of the programme Fullview Megan Lubke and producer Rozalia Whitehead.

The publication reported that at the said meeting, Magopeni told those in attendance that there had been calls for her to step down and take responsibility for the blunder and that she also questioned how the incorrect clip was broadcast.

The publication reported that it had become known that two clips had been sent from the SABC’s Cape Town studios to those in Johannesburg, the president’s rehearsal and the final-cut.

Chauke reportedly said in his report that Whitehead either deleted or disregarded the clip that was meant to be broadcast. Chauke is quoted as saying that it appeared as if Whitehead did not do quality control or had not listened to the clip because had she done so, she would have known earlier that the rehearsal clip was lined up to be broadcast.

Chauke reportedly said that when she questioned Whitehead about the airing of the wrong clip, as it was being broadcast, she was at a lost for words and could not give an explanation.

The publication reported that according to a bulletin editor named Solomon Ntuli, neither Whitehead nor the freelance video editor at the time had made sure that the correct clip was cued for broadcasting.

Whitehead reportedly said in her report that she had been informed by Lubke that she was editing the rehearsal clip and that due to time constraints, they could not identify the confusion.

“I went back to the video editor and found that there was another speech on the same feed. There was a distinction between the rehearsal and the final version. I assumed that what followed after the rehearsal was to go on air,” Whitehead was quoted as saying.

The publication reported that at the meeting which it had the opportunity to listen to the audio recordings of, Mokoena said that the Cape Town studios should have sent the final cut only and that the producer and video editor did not follow standard operating procedure by failing to play, watch and listen to the clip before it was broadcast.

The SABC said on Friday that following the blunder on 5 September 2019, a preliminary investigation indicated that “unauthorised changes were effected without any communication to the desk and demonstrated a well-considered and coordinated act of sabotage”.

“After due consideration, the corporation decided to suspend three permanent employees and unscheduled one freelancer whilst the investigation was taking place,” the statement reads.

The broadcaster said following an independent disciplinary process, in line with its policies, which was led by an independent chairperson, two employees have been found guilty based on the recommendations and findings of this process.

“One of these two employees was dismissed and the other received a final written warning. The third employee was not found guilty based on evidence provided,” the statement reads.

The broadcaster emphasised that due process was followed with regards to the disciplinary process and it dismissed as untrue reports that the SABC board was involved in this process.

“It is the responsibility of the SABC to stabilise the organisation, strengthen governance and ensure that the integrity of the institution is restored.”