eNCA head of news Kanthan Pillay was fired on Friday with immediate effect following his controversial apology for comments he made on Twitter on Tuesday.
A statement read: “After intense overnight investigation and consultation, the channel decided it had no alternative but to end its relationship with him. Although he was acting in an individual capacity and his posting was unsolicited, he was nonetheless a senior member of staff and the channel believes there was no room for any other outcome and that damage control was imperative.”
eNCA said: “Serious allegations have also been levelled at eNCA about Pillay’s censorship of stories and his management style” and added that “the channel takes the allegations of censorship very seriously”.
Pillay had, however, not offered to resign.
He had tried to express an unreserved apology to “all that were offended by my irresponsible and ill-conceived statement on Twitter, posted on Tuesday”, he said.
He had, among other things, called journalist Samkelo Maseko a “rat” heading to the “sinking ship” of the SABC after he resigned from eNCA amid controversy about the organisation withdrawing from covering an EFF elective conference.
Pillay said he deeply regretted the statement and retracted it in its entirety.
Pillay had tweeted on Tuesday about “rats swimming toward a sinking ship #EarlyXmasGift,” which prompted Maseko to lambaste him and reveal the alleged circumstances under which he left eNCA.
Maseko rejected the apology.
Pillay will soon be issuing an apology to South Africans!
If it weren’t for what others here call ‘fake outrage’ it would still be business as usual!
He didn’t see anything wrong about his tweet & other views!
He gets a slip on the wrist pic.twitter.com/sbuWNPoUCj
— Tumi Sole (@tumisole) December 19, 2019
An email sent to staff by eNCA editor-in-chief Jeremy Maggs on Thursday explained that the channel was taking the controversy, especially about allegations that censorship had occurred, seriously and would bring in outside assistance if needed.
Maggs said: “All news organisations have one currency and that is credibility. It is clear this negative attention has adversely affected eNCA’s reputation and credibility. However, with the talented and dedicated staff we have, I believe the channel can recover. Right now our immediate priorities are to mend strained relationships and to rebuild credibility with its audience and other stakeholders as soon as possible.”
eNCA staff subsequently wore black to work and said they were standing together against censorship.
Earlier, on Friday a group of eNCA journalists took a stand for “independent journalism”, following allegations of editorial interference and censorship by Pillay.
The group – which includes anchors Xoli Mngambi, Jane Dutton, Thembekile Mrototo and Dan Moyane, as well as journalists Khumalo, Heidi Giokos and Masego Rahlaga – met eNCA management to make “it clear we stand for independent journalism”.
Several took to Twitter after the meeting to make their stance known – that they “won’t allow the integrity of our news profession to be made a mockery of”.
After recent disturbing events, we’ve met with eNCA management and made it clear we stand for independent journalism. We’ll protect the sanctity of our credibility. We won’t allow the integrity of our news profession to be made a mockery of. #CredibilityFirst #NoToCensorship pic.twitter.com/t0Or6ZNTmE
— Tshego Moagi (@TshegoMoagi_) December 20, 2019
In the channel’s statement, Maggs said he believed the channel would recover from the bad publicity and an outside consultant would continue to investigate the censorship claims.
— Zizi (@Bathandwa95) December 20, 2019
Meanwhile, the suspension of journalist Khayelihle Khumalo had been lifted following pressure from his colleagues on management.
Khumalo was suspended by Pillay after he tweeted about the EFF’s elective conference, which eNCA had decided it would not cover in solidarity with Daily Maverick, which was banned by the party.
Suspension is lifted and Kanthan Pillay is gone. Rats are delighted. What a journey ????????????????????????
— KhayelihleKhumalo (@KhayaJames) December 20, 2019
Earlier, the Economic Freedom Fighters issued a statement condemning the channel’s leadership, in addition to calling for a boycott of the news channel. They rejected the apology.
Pillay is the leader of a political party that contested the 2019 elections, the South African Capitalist Party, or ZACP.
Pillay was formerly the CEO of YFM, which is part of eMedia, and which owns eNCA.
Maseko was the day’s correspondent for eNCA at the EFF conference and decided to stay at Nasrec after his channel’s withdrawal. He later resigned from his position at the news channel. He also tweeted an apology to his colleagues for not taking the time to bid them farewell in person.
Maseko was rumoured to have secured a new job at the national broadcaster, which subsequent information appears to have confirmed.
This prompted other broadcasters and media personalities to rally behind Maseko by sharing their own alleged unpleasant experiences while working under Pillay.
The South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) released a statement focusing on the allegations of censorship that Maseko levelled against Pillay.
“Sanef is deeply concerned by allegations from former senior eNCA journalist Samkele Maseko that eNCA’s Kanthan Pillay had censored stories in the newsroom. The censoring of journalists who report in ethical and responsible ways is anathema in our industry and should always be strongly condemned.”
Sanef called on all editors, media owners and newsroom executives to guard against all instances of editorial interference in newsrooms and to allow journalists to continue with their work in a responsible and ethical manner.
eNCA said it would cooperate “fully” with Sanef, which requested a meeting with management to seek clarity on Pillay’s appointment.
Both Pillay and his fellow ZACP member Roman Cabanac deleted their Twitter accounts.
(Compiled by Charles Cilliers. Additional reporting, News24 Wire)