Protesters support journalists outside the SABC in Auckland Park. Picture:FINANCIAL MAIL
Protesters support journalists outside the SABC in Auckland Park. Picture:FINANCIAL MAIL

THE SABC says the Labour Court does not have jurisdiction to deal with the application lodged by fired journalists.

This was according to the answering affidavit filed by the SABC on Thursday night.

Trade union Solidarity on behalf of four of the seven journalists axed — Foeta Krige, Suna Venter, Jacques Steenkamp and Krivani Pillay — lodged an application in the Labour Court to overturn their dismissals.

The public broadcaster suspended eight journalists for questioning an editorial decision to ban footage of violent protests where public property was being burned. Seven of the eight were subsequently fired.

The court hearing was set to start on Thursday but was postponed because the SABC had not yet filed answering papers to the amended application.

Judge Rob Lagrange gave the public broadcaster until 7pm on Thursday to do this.

The matter is expected to go ahead on Friday.

In the answering papers, the SABC argued that the court, as set out in the Labour Relations Act, could only decide whether a dismissal was unfair, either substantially or procedurally, and could declare it void and unlawful, which it said the journalists had "pegged their case on".

The SABC argued that the journalists had not followed the proper mechanisms under the act, which obliged them to approach the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) for conciliation and thereafter arbitration before approaching the Labour Court.

"In conclusion of this jurisdictional point, we submit that an order by a court which lacks jurisdiction is incompetent and is a nullity," the SABC said.

In the papers, the SABC said the journalists had defied their employer and revolted against it and had taken part in a protest against the public broadcaster.

The public broadcaster also claimed the group had breached their employment contracts.

The SABC argued that it was not true that the journalists had been subjected to disciplinary action because they questioned editorial decisions internally.

READ THIS: Call for advertisers to pull ads from SABC over censorship

"The employees were charged for externally and publicly criticising and distancing themselves from the editorial decision in relation to their condition of employment."

It said even if the journalists were reinstated the disciplinary proceedings against them would not be revived automatically but would have to be reinstituted if the SABC deemed this necessary.

The public broadcaster also denied that the editorial decision had been "universally condemned" by all major political parties, including the ANC.

ANC communications subcommittee head Jackson Mthembu lambasted the SABC for the decision to ban protest footage, calling it unconstitutional and censorship. ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe later confirmed that this was the party’s stance.

However, in its papers the SABC said the editorial decision was criticised mainly by opposition parties and by "some members of the ANC".