Picture: ESA ALEXANDER
Journalists‚ civil society groups and concerned members of the public gather outside the offices of the SABC in Cape Town and Johannesburg in the name of media freedom on Friday. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER

EIGHT journalists at the SABC want the Constitutional Court to issue an order that Parliament has failed to discharge its oversight mandate on the public broadcaster because the poor state of affairs remains at the entity.

The court found earlier in 2016 that the National Assembly failed to discharge its mandate in its mishandling of the Nkandla debacle.

The journalists were fired and then reinstated after approaching the Labour Court, but have decided to persist with their application to the Constitutional Court. They say nothing has changed at the SABC since their unlawful dismissal.

The eight have asked the highest court to declare that Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications and the National Assembly have breached their obligation in terms of section 55(2) of the Constitution.

The journalists maintain that, since their reinstatement and the SABC’s undertaking to comply with the Independent Communication Authority of SA’s order to reverse a ban on flighting footage of violent protests, the culture of censorship remains and fear in the newsroom persists.

In August, the portfolio committee shot down a proposal for an inquiry into the chaos at the public broadcaster after Communications Minister Faith Muthambi and senior SABC executives appeared in Parliament.

The journalists say they had asked to make a presentation to the committee about the issues at the SABC, but the committee met without them.

The group has accused the portfolio committee of not conducting a proper investigation into the issues facing the public broadcaster.

Committee chairman Humphrey Maxegwana could not be reached for comment.

The DA, which had advocated the inquiry, said it supported the journalists’ court bid.

“Unfortunately, Parliament seems to have learned nothing and history looks set to repeat itself as Parliament once again makes itself complicit in its own erosion and that of the public broadcaster,” MP and portfolio committee member Phumzile van Damme said.

The SABC eight have asked the Constitutional Court to make an order that the National Assembly, within a month of the date of such a directive, institute an inquiry into the various issues raised.

The move not to broadcast footage of violent protests has been at the heart of recent problems at the SABC, amid allegations that news was being censored and employees who disagreed with this were being purged.

The decision was widely condemned, with the ANC saying it went against its policy but adding it would leave Parliament to deal with the SABC.

One of the journalists — economics editor Thandeka Gqubule — claimed in an affidavit that, while the SABC had purported to accept that its decision was unlawful, the broadcaster and Muthambi continued to defend it.

The SABC had also not taken any steps to convey to its news staff that it was reversing the decision.

She said despite the fact that the journalists had been reinstated, their working conditions at the SABC “remain intolerable”.

“The substantive issues that we raised regarding the SABC’s news policies prior to our termination have never been addressed and instead, we are subjected to ongoing harassment.”