National 26.7.2016 10:13 am

Fired SABC journalists reinstated by Labour Court

Newsreader Ivor Price shares a moment with axed SABC journalist Suna Venter before court proceedings, 21 July 2016, at the Labour Court in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. Picture: Alaister Russell

Newsreader Ivor Price shares a moment with axed SABC journalist Suna Venter before court proceedings, 21 July 2016, at the Labour Court in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. Picture: Alaister Russell

The Labour Court has called the actions of the SABC unlawful and said they will have no right to discipline their formerly fired staff.

The court has found that SABC journalists fired by the national broadcaster need to be reinstated to their jobs with immediate effect.

Trade union Solidarity took up the cause of four of the eight fired journalists.

These journalists challenged the state broadcaster’s decision to fire the group when they failed to abide by a new editorial policy, claiming it amounted to censorship. That policy has already had to be withdrawn following a successful challenge by the Helen Suzman Foundation and a decision by regulator Icasa.

The case was heard by Judge Robert LeGrange following a postponement on Friday as a result of the SABC failing to file answering affidavits on time.

Foeta Krige, Suna Venter, Krivani Pillay and Jacques Steenkamp filed an urgent application to have their dismissals by the SABC set aside by the Labour Court.

The judge found that no disciplinary actions against them would be legal, and could not take place. He interdicted the SABC from taking any action against the journalists.

Tuesday morning’s ruling is yet another legal setback to the SABC with chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng at the helm. The two SABC staff members who fired the journalists will also have to write motivations in the form of affidavits for why they should not be held personally liable for the legal costs.

The SABC has not yet indicated whether it intends to appeal the decision.

At a press conference afterwards, Solidarity’s deputy general secretary called it a “solid win, a six-love win” because the censorship instruction was ruled illegal, as were the suspensions/firings.

Hermann added that they were most pleased that the SABC was given only five days to demonstrate why it should not be held liable for the legal costs.

He continued with the tennis metaphor by saying it was “game, set match”. He called it a triumph of democracy over Hlaudi Motsoeneng. He praised the journalists for their willingness to pay a high price to combat the unlawful actions of their employer.

Dirk Hermann, second from left, speaking at the press conference.

Dirk Hermann, second from left, speaking at the press conference.

Hermann said the SABC should have withdrawn all actions against its union members immediately following the anti-SABC Icasa ruling.

“We are not in a power-based democracy, but a constitutional democracy. Power does not overcome constitutional and judicial principles. One can only run away from the rule of law for so long … constitutional values should be an integral part of a person, and it should not be necessary to go to court to ensure it.

“This win has implications for Motsoeneng … a strategic battle has indeed been won, but the war must still be won.”

He lauded all eight fired journalists and said they had become the symbol of what Solidarity and those supporting its legal challenge stood for.

 

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