All those editors complaining about the SABC look to themselves, writes SABC CEO Dali Mpofu in the Sunday Times. Their reporting on the corporation is littered with mistakes, highlighting a general problem with journalism.

Dali Mpofu writes in the Sunday Times:

I was half way through writing a response to the unwarranted attack upon my good intentions by a clearly disgruntled former employee of the SABC, Philippa Green, “Fear and favour at SABC” (June 25) when two events conspired to change my mind.

Firstly, Karima Brown wrote in Business Day this week that, while working for the SABC — before my time — she was “constantly bullied, cajoled and intimidated” and deprived of editorial independence by the self-same Green.

Then I received a rare apology to the SABC from the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) for, among other things, “prejudging the merits of (a) dispute without giving the SABC … an opportunity to air their side of the story”.

So I decided to deal with a far more general topic, namely my deep concern about the parlous state of journalism in this country.

Recently the Sunday Independent printed, on page two, a picture of Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and called her Lulu Xingwana. On page four of the same edition, there appeared another picture of the same person, now called Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

This may sound trivial, but one would expect somebody in the quality-control chain of editing that newspaper to have picked up that this was the same person. I am certainly not asking for them to know their leaders. That would be asking too much. More importantly, I did not see an apology or correction in the next edition.

As members of the public we have only ourselves to blame for this. We have demonstrated unacceptable levels of tolerance for shoddy work by journalists.

The second example that springs to mind is that of an SABC reporter, reporting on a prominent court case, who could not provide a proper answer to the question of when the court proceedings were scheduled to start, and was at sixes and sevens as to what to call the complainant. Again no apology or correction was ever offered.

Then came the masterpiece: the Sowetan of June 20, making the allegation of an SABC “apartheid-style” list of “banned” individuals, ended the page- three article with: “Kaizer Kganyago, an SABC spokesman, refused to comment on the instructions said to have been given by Zikalala.”

But, on page 15 of the same paper, no less a person than the editor wrote: “The reason given for the move by the state [sic] broadcaster’s spokesman, Kaizer Kganyago, suggests that the decision was taken purely for qualitative reasons.” A little apology or clarification, perhaps, the following day? Not on your life! Two mutually destructive versions of “information” in the same newspaper and life goes on.

And I always thought the editor read the paper in order to earn that title.

The editorial in The Citizen of June 28 reads: “So chief executive Dali Mpofu now says the SABC needs a ‘Chief People’s [sic] Officer’ to improve communication with its stakeholders … talk about closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, as the SABC has lurched from one public relations disaster to another.”

Here the editor of The Citizen is either deliberately misleading his readers or just twisting the facts to fit his “opinion”. He knows, or ought to know, that the SABC top executive structure was approved in March and announced in April, long before the “disasters” he is referring to. In fact, a copy of the structure, including the position of Chief People Officer, was handed out to the journalists present, including a representative from The Citizen. The only recourse that immediately springs to my mind is to demand back the sausage rolls we served the scribes on that occasion. And the cheap wine. To crown it all, The Citizen editorial appeared under the promising heading of “Just tell it as it is”.

Last, but not least, writing on Monday June 26, Peter Bruce, the editor of Business Day, pontificates thus about an SABC advert aimed at public accountability, a clear legislative imperative: “Running a full-page ad in the Sunday Times costs more than a quarter of a million rand these days, and some other Sunday papers also had it. So there’s R500000 of your licence fee up in smoke.”

The fact is that the advert costs were approximately R200000, less than half of the amount quoted. Secondly, the advert in question was actually placed in only two Sunday newspapers, City Press and the Sunday Independent, and not in the Sunday Times. The reason was cost saving.

In the same piece, Bruce argues that I should have found a lawyer to tell me that the film on President Thabo Mbeki was not libellous. The small fact that five different professional lawyers, all mentioned by name in the advert, disagree with Bruce’s view on this very legal question is obviously a minor detail.

I have more examples, but hopefully the point is made. Editors are key players in the information business, but from the evidence above they are sometimes the first culprits in breaking the first rules of true journalism. Small wonder nobody was prepared to accept that the SABC could be taking steps to look into measures to improve the quality of what we broadcast to the public. They understandably found that idea completely laughable.

Something needs to be done. Let’s start by not suffering in silence. It is the surest way to perpetrate an injustice. Ask anyone who knows what apartheid bannings, detention without trial and “emergency regulations” really felt like.

* Mpofu is the group CEO and editor-in-chief of the SABC. Tis column first appeared in the Sunday Times on July 2.