Wed, 19 Feb 2020

An independent inquiry into allegations of censorship and editorial interference at Primedia found that journalist Karima Brown had breached the provisions of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa's (BCCSA) code. Speaking to News24, Brown said the report was "a cover-up".

Brown lodged the complaint, two days after her contract as host of the on Talk Radio 702 lapsed, against her former station manager Thabisile Mbete.

The allegations stemmed from an episode of the show that was aired in November last year. They revolved around a Competition Commission of South Africa report, which the commission had filed with the Competition Tribunal.

The report, compiled by Terry Motau SC, concerned a supply chain agreement between MultiChoice and the SABC.

During the show, Brown spoke about five people who, after the show, said the comments made about them were unfair.

The five included former spokesperson for the SABC Neo Momodu, former SABC board member Mathatha Tsedu, veteran journalist Joe Thloloe, Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe and MultiChoice CEO Calvo Mawela.

Karima Brown waves goodbye to 702

The inquiry found that the criticism of the five people breached the BCCSA code in terms of comment, controversial issues of public importance as well as privacy, dignity and reputation.

"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," the report said.

"Indeed, Ms Brown put up no evidence in her interviews with the panel that any of the five individuals had engaged in any wrongdoing, or would do so, in the context of the MultiChoice/SABC deal, or at all. She was of the view that the factual links by themselves created questions for the audience to answer.

"Presenters are of course at liberty to leave questions for the audience to answer, but must then take the risk that reasonable listeners will reach a defamatory or adverse conclusion about the individuals, given the context in which their names are mentioned."

Speaking to News24, Brown said the report was "a cover-up".

"The report is a cover-up by 702 because it had the opportunity to [institute disciplinary action] when the complaint was laid against me by my station manager. I was never informed about any disciplinary action, and I was never informed about the reasons why management did not discipline me. I only found this out when the inquiry was on," she added.

"I also find it odd that the chairperson of Sanef, Mahlatse [Mahlase], was called by Gwede Mantashe because Gallens has nothing to do with programming at 702 and I didn't report to her.

"I also find it odd that my boss, my station manager, did not inform me that it was Mahlatse [Mahlase] who Mantashe called to complain to and there was no written complaint - he didn't go to the BCCSA and MultiChoice didn't want to come on air, the SABC referred us to a statement.

"So, as far as I'm concerned, I actually did all the work I was supposed to do, my boss was supposed to protect me from politicians, not pander to their whims."

Brown said she also found it odd that the chairperson of Sanef was also the news director at Eyewitness News and the "reinforcer of Gwede Mantashe".

"If Sanef is a body that is looking after the interests of journalism and after the interests of people who are supposed to be protected from politicians and elites and monopolies like MultiChoice, I find both [Mahlase's] behaviour odd and Thabisile Mbete's behaviour odd and I find the company Primedia's behaviour odd," she added.

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