SA’s public broadcaster blunders again

Posted on March 30, 2018

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The blundering at South Africa’s pubic broadcaster (SABC) continues. In an action that has stunned senior broadcasters, Popular SAfm morning show radio host Sakina Kamwendo had her last (March 30) Forum at Eight programme shut down by management, halfway through its alloted hour. Producers were instructed to take the programme off air and fill in the time with any available music.

Elements within management were apparently furious that the presenter, in what she had been told was her final show, had made it clear that she had been kept in the dark about what her future would be when her contract ended. She also mentioned the difficulties in the past when staff at the public broadcaster were severely demoralised under politically appointed broadcast boss, Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

Although Motsoeneng has been ousted and a new board has been appointed, elements of the old, illiberal, order apparently remain. However, SABC staffers maintain that this is compounded by a level of managerial incompetence.

Certainly, the manner in which Kamwendo was treated was a classic example of insensitivity and bureaucratic bungling. Some two weeks ago, she first heard that her contract, expiring on March 31, would not be renewed. But the news came from a journalist at another, private, radio station.

Kamwendo was told that another senior presenter had already been “signed up” to do her show. At the same time, it was widely assumed that she would continue with a show that has played a major role in restoring credibility to the SABC’s battered image.

Kamwendo admitted at the time that she had heard “a rumour”, that she was to be axed. But she had been told nothing by management.

During the tenure of broadcast chief Hlaudi Motsoeneng Kamwendo and her team were put under tremendous pressure when they continued to invite guests who were regarded as not suitable by then management. Kamwendo’s hard hitting interview style also apparently annoyed several of the mandarins at the Auckland Park headquarters of the SABC.

“But what they have done now is crazy,” a colleague said in a telephone interview this morning. “Listeners were phoning in and they weren’t happy and then the order came to shut down the programme.”

The order was relayed to technical staff by an executive producer who reportedly implied that the SABC board felt that the sort of farewell programme being conducted by Kamwendo was “not suitable”. However, board members were apparently unaware of the instruction which seems to have come from a senior manager.

As one senior broadcaster noted: “Whichever way you look at it, it is a public relations mess.”