Outcry over bid to vet SABC head of news

Moshoeshoe Monare told SABC News that the SSA had called him to take part in a polygraph test just weeks before the election

Moshoeshoe Monare told SABC News that the SSA had called him to take part in a polygraph test just weeks before the election

Published Apr 30, 2024


Media NGOs have slammed the State Security Agency’s (SSA’s) attempt to vet SABC Head of News, veteran journalist Moshoeshoe Monare, saying it undermines the fundamental principles of media and editorial independence and freedom of the press.

The City Press reported at the weekend that Monare is under scrutiny for the broadcaster’s negative coverage of the ANC leading up to the elections.

He is understood to have come under focus after a leaked audio recording of ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa speaking on the media during a National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting.

Ramaphosa said that the party should challenge any negative reporting on the ruling party by media houses.

Monare told SABC News that the SSA had called him to take part in a polygraph test just weeks before the election.

The SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef), Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), SOS Support Public Broadcasting Coalition (SOS) and the Campaign for Freedom of Expression (CFE) said the request to vet Monare posed a serious threat to media freedom.

“While the SABC may be deemed critical infrastructure in terms of the Critical Infrastructure Act, the act is focused on the vetting of security personnel and not journalists.

“While Parliament did not accede to our requests during deliberations on the bill that SABC journalists were to be specifically excluded, it is clear from the definition and aims of the act that journalists are not included, and that vetting is for security personnel only,” the groups said in a joint statement.

The NGOs said it is “mind-boggling and ridiculous” that the request to vet Monare should come when the head of news has occupied the position for nearly two years.

“It is even more worrying that it comes just a month ahead of elections.

As organisations committed to upholding media freedom, journalistic integrity and safeguarding the public’s right to accurate information, we condemn this action unequivocally.”

They said they will ask the SABC board to publicly condemn any interference in its editorial processes and to uphold its responsibility to protect the independence of the SABC.

“The broadcaster’s head of news must be shielded from external pressures and political interference and be allowed to perform his editorial duties without fear or favour.

“During an election period, it is even more critical that media are able to perform their duties without fear and intimidation.

“A politically compromised media is at risk of undermining a credible, free and fair election. We need to ensure, at all costs, that media, especially the public broadcaster are protected from any form of intimidation and threat.

“We demand that Minister in the Presidency, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, identifies the person(s) responsible for this interference and commits to swift disciplinary action. Those who seek to undermine media freedom must be held accountable.”

Monare told SABC News that he questioned who made the decision that he be called to take part in a polygraph test at the SSA, just weeks before the elections.

“Whatever we do in our newsroom is in the context of media freedom, and therefore I did not understand why state security agents would want to conduct a polygraph test on me.

“And even then, I said to them, can you put in writing, the rationale, the reasons, and who made the call? The supervisor or that agent, called me to say look, the client – not us as State Security – made that kind of call. It’s not us. And I said who is the client? I’m still waiting for that answer to say who is that client who made that call.”

Presidency spokesperson Vincent Magwenya on Monday held a press conference and denied that Monare was being vetted for a second time, saying that the process had started in 2022 but Monare “did not want to submit himself to a polygraph test, which is part of the vetting process”.

“Upon his appointment, Mr Monare gave consent to the vetting process and completed the form that was furnished to him, and went further to submit some but not all of the information that was required.

“Consequently, the vetting of Mr Monare was never completed as claimed and no one from SSA recently phoned Mr Monare to ask him to submit himself to a polygraph test as has been alleged.”

Magwenya said the Presidency had also been informed that the new SABC group chief executive, Nomsa Chabeli, was currently going through the same vetting process and that the current board of directors of the SABC went through a similar vetting process.

“President Ramaphosa or any part of his administration will never sanction acts of intimidation or harassment of journalists, because such behaviour will stand contrary to sacrosanct adherence to the Bill of Rights that are enshrined in our country’s Constitution,” Magwenya said.

DA MP Natasha Mazzone on Monday said the party was “deeply concerned” by allegations that Monare was being intimidated by the SSA.

“The DA rejects any intimidation or threats against the media, whose independence is paramount to a robust democracy.

“The latest allegations, from a media veteran like Mr Monare, who has been in his position at the SABC for more than two years, speaks volumes.”

The Mercury