While Karima Brown’s departure from 702 has been downplayed by the station, leaked emails show a breakdown in the relationship between the journalist and her station manager, who Brown says called for Primedia to take action against her following an argument that stemmed from a complaint by ANC national chairperson Gwede Mantashe.
The Citizen reported on Tuesday that 702 listeners were left asking questions after the Karima Brown Show was taken off air. It has since been officially replaced with the Aubrey Masango Show, with station manager Thabisile Mbete portraying Brown’s parting from 702 as having been “amicable”.
“In broadcasting, presenters usually have contracts with a specific end date. Karima Brown’s contract ended in June and we took a business decision not to renew it,” Mbete told The Citizen.
But the emails, shared with The Citizen by an insider at Primedia, reveal a far more complicated situation. Prior to her departure, Brown lodged a formal complaint of censorship at the station – which is now resulting in an independent investigation – after she was confronted by Mbete following complaints, including a call to 702 from Gwede Mantashe.
Mantashe objected to what was said about him by Brown during a show looking into the Competition Commission’s ruling that a deal between MultiChoice and the SABC constituted a merger.
During the show, in an interview with Media Monitoring Africa’s head of policy Thandi Smith, Brown mentioned that MultiChoice CEO Calvo Mawela is related to Mantashe by marriage.
“One of the chief directors at MultiChoice is also the son-in-law of Mr Gwede Mantashe, the current chairperson of the African National Congress and also the minister of minerals,” Brown said.
“Now of course you can’t blame people for who they marry and in which families they marry, but these links are insidious. They are not to be ignored because we know how power works; it doesn’t always manifest in formal minutes, in memos, in paper trails, it often gets discussed in the kinds of spaces where people have the freedom to exercise enormous amounts of influence and change the direction,” she continued.
Via telephone, Mantashe confirmed that he had called the station about Brown.
“I was abused on that show, so I phoned 702 and complained,” he said.
“I don’t shoo any journalist, but if you say something wrong about me I’ll use my right to complain. Ask Business Day, ask the Sunday Times, if a journalist writes rubbish about me I complain. I’ll phone them up and ask why they wrote that rubbish or I’ll phone their editor.
“I have a relative who works at MultiChoice; that doesn’t mean I have influence at MultiChoice,” Mantashe continued, adding that he had “nothing to do with” the company.
In an email sent to Primedia’s chief business officer, Geraint Crwys-Williams, Brown says Mantashe contacted her to complain about the interview – going so far as to accuse Brown of being part of a media conspiracy against him – and was told he was “welcome” to lay a complaint with the Broadcasting Complaints Commission (BCCSA) or Mbete “if he felt he was treated unfairly” on air.
After this, Brown says she and her producer Clive Moagi were “asked to explain” the interview by Mbete, who had not yet heard it at the time.
Mbete told them that she had not listened to the show live, and there was talk of pulling the podcast from the 702 website following several complaints, confirming one of these was from Mantashe, who she said she did not speak to directly.
According to Brown, Moagi explained to Mbete that he had contacted all people mentioned in the interview via WhatsApp, including Mantashe, and invited them on to Brown’s show as a right of reply.
Mantashe told The Citizen he was not interested in a right of reply, and preferred to handle the matter through a telephonic complaint.
Moagi, meanwhile, responded to requests for comment by saying he was not at liberty to speak on matters related to the station.
Brown indicated in her email that Mantashe tried to call her on her cellphone during the interview, but did not attempt to call into the station to set the record straight.
In an email sent to Brown following her listening to the recording of the interview, Mbete calls into question Brown’s treatment of Mantashe and other prominent people mentioned in the interview.
“The way in which you drew the links creates a suggestion of some level of shady behaviour on their part,” she said.
“You created an opportunity for our listeners to ‘connect the dots’ in such a way that maybe [sic] detrimental to some of those you referenced without giving them an opportunity to air their side of the story”.
The formal complaint lodged by Brown further details the tensions between herself and Mbete.
It describes how Brown told Mbete “that the last news manager who called me in after powerful politicians complained but never registered their complaints publicly and formally was Snuki Zikalala when he ran the editorial division at the SABC”.
Later, Brown describes how Mbete felt she had been unfairly compared to Zikalala.
“In this meeting Ms Mbete said she felt affronted by the comparison she thought I drew with Snuki Zikalala and her handling of the interview that I did. She also accused me of shouting at her and raising my voice. In short she said I was extremely rude to her. And that she was offended,” Brown wrote.
Brown’s complaint also details her allegations that 702 had censored her, in her view.
Explaining her mention of Zikalala, Brown says: “I pointed out this is the chilling effect censorship has on newsrooms because there are no formal complaints only political pressure exerted on our management. That’s exactly how censorship works.”
She returns to this theme near the end of the complaint: “Given that neither Ms Mbete not Mr Mantashe are prepared to say who he had complained to it leaves a dangerous atmosphere that 702 or Primedia were open to political pressure from politicians.”
The complaint further details how Brown felt Mbete and 702 did not have her back when it came to her run-in with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which culminated in her winning a case against them, with the judge ruling that the party had contravened the Electoral Code after its leader Julius Malema shared her phone number on Twitter, resulting in threats and harassment.
READ MORE: Karima Brown wins case against the EFF
“After the death of my father in 2019, just before the election, and during my court action against the EFF for doxing me, leading to death threats, I was never called in by Ms Mbete to check on my wellbeing or that I was okay. She corresponded via email only,” Brown wrote.
She added that she did not recall the station putting out a statement “regarding the intimidation I suffered at the hands of the EFF”.
Crwys-Williams confirmed that an independent investigation would take place following Brown’s complaint.
In a statement, Crwys-Williams said the company “does not condone editorial interference of any kind”.
“We are aware of the allegations levelled by Ms. Brown against 702 station management, and an independent investigation into the matter will be launched as soon as the terms of reference have been established. Once due process has been followed, we will share more information,” he added.
A 702 staffer, meanwhile, told The Citizen that this investigation was now under way.
When called, Brown said she preferred not to comment.
Questions sent in an attempt to get Mbete’s side of the story regarding the version of events in Brown’s emails were instead responded to by Crwys-Williams, who said that answering them would be inappropriate due to the ongoing inquiry.
He added, however, that the station still maintains that Brown has departed due only to a business decision not to renew her contract.
“The facts are that Ms Brown was contracted to work for 702 from 1 October 2017 to the end of June 2019. Once the contract term was completed, she left 702,” he said.
UPDATE: This article was updated with Primedia’s response to questions sent to 702 station manager Thabisile Mbete. 13:56, July 4.