Vuyo Mvoko. Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI
Vuyo Mvoko. Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI

NEGOTIATIONS between the SABC and senior political anchor Vuyo Mvoko for his return to work broke down on Thursday after he refused to retract his public criticism of the lack of editorial independence at the public broadcaster.

Mvoko was one of eight people who lost their jobs for objecting to the ban on the broadcast of footage of violent protests where public property is burnt. After court action, seven other dismissed employees were reinstated on Wednesday.

Since the ban was first announced in May, it has been widely condemned as censorship and the SABC has been deluged by litigation on different fronts. After dramatically capitulating in almost every case, Mvoko’s is the last the SABC will be fending off, for now.

Mvoko — employed in terms of an independent contractor agreement — was informed that he would no longer be "scheduled" by the SABC because he had brought the public broadcaster into disrepute.

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This followed the publication of an article My Hell at SABC in The Star newspaper. In it, Mvoko described his personal experience of editorial interference and emphasised the importance of free debate in editorial meetings. He was scathing about chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng and former heads of news Jimi Matthews and Snuki Zikalala.

The SABC offered to take him back if he would retract his statements made in the Star, but he refused, said his counsel, Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, in the High Court in Johannesburg on Thursday.

However, after a back and forth with the bench about why the case was set down for Thursday, instead of Tuesday — as is generally required for urgent applications — Ngcukaitobi said the matter would be re-enrolled for Tuesday.

In his court papers, Mvoko said that, by not scheduling him, the SABC had breached their agreement. It was not him but the SABC that had brought itself into disrepute by its ban, he said.

"Being critical of a public broadcaster’s censorship policies — especially by a journalist, whose job it is after all to be critical — is not the same thing as bringing that public broadcaster into disrepute," he said.

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What was happening at the SABC was a "full onslaught on the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution", said Mvoko.

In his affidavit, he described other instances of editorial interference, including the decision to discontinue a show after Public Protector Thuli Madonsela was invited to appear and the excision of portions of an interview with President Jacob Zuma, on the request of the presidency.

He said that, even if he had breached the contract, it was a breach demanded by the Constitution.

But in an answering affidavit, SABC’s general manager for news special events, Simon Tebele, said Mvoko was an independent contractor and was not entitled to insist on being scheduled.

The SABC had a right to protect its good name and if the court were to insist on Mvoko’s being scheduled it would be an incursion into the SABC’s editorial independence, he said.

Tebele said the relationship between Mvoko and his manager Nothando Maseko had broken down after she took "umbrage" at his remark in the article — that there was no point in promoting women if they were to be reduced "to policing duties or walking around with their cellphones glued to their ears as they take arbitrary instructions on who to put on air".