Karima Brown's allegations 'unbalanced, not backed up by facts' - Inquiry

Adv Terry Motau says journalist breached the BCCSA code

Karima Brown's allegations of patronage network were unbalanced, not backed up by facts - inquiry finds

19 September 2019

The links that journalist and former Talk Radio 702 presenter Karima Brown created on her radio show between five individuals and their dealings with MultiChoice and the SABC were not based on fact and did not consider the potential harm to their reputations.

This was according to an independent inquiry into allegations of censorship and editorial interference at Primedia, which found that Brown had breached the provisions of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa's (BCCSA) code.

Brown lodged a complaint of editorial interference and censorship against her former station manager, Thabisile Mbete, two days after her contract as host of the Karima Brown Show on Talk Radio 702 lapsed.

Advocate Terry Motau SC looked into Brown's allegations and compiled a report with findings after interviewing 16 people.

Motau said in the report that Brown and her producer Clive Moagi had been of the view that a right of reply had been offered, but people refused to come onto the show. They also felt that individuals had been free to call during the show and correct inaccuracies or untruths.

Motau, however found that Brown put up no evidence "that any of the five individuals had engaged in any wrongdoing, or would do so, in the context of the Multichoice-SABC deal, or at all".

Reputational rights

He said her duty under the BCCSA code was to ensure a factual basis for her comments.

"She did not do so".

He also said the individuals should have been given an opportunity to comment.

"... knowing in advance that listeners would be told about the 'insidious' links between five individuals, Ms Brown or her producers should have directly contacted those individuals to offer them a right of reply in the show."

The result was likely that Brown also breached a provision of the code, in that exceptional care was not taken in dealing with the reputational rights of individuals, he found.

He said no nexus had been established between the decision not to renew Brown's show and what she was complaining about.

He had no reason to disbelieve Primedia's explanations about a change of its strategic decision and considering the "low ratings" of the show.

The allegations stemmed from an episode of the show that was aired in November last year. They revolved around a Competition Commission of South Africa report, which the commission had filed with the Competition Tribunal.

During the show, Brown spoke about five people who, after the show, said the comments made about them were unfair.

The five are former spokesperson for the SABC Neo Momodu, former SABC board member Mathatha Tsedu, veteran journalist Joe Thloloe, Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe and MultiChoice CEO Calvo Mawela.

'Chilling effect'

Brown discussed their employment history and employers, and created links between their dealings with MultiChoice and the SABC, adding that Mawela was also Mantashe's son-in-law.

In a meeting afterwards, Mbete told Brown and Moagi that she had received several complaints about the show. She said the way they had been spoken about was considered to be harmful to their reputations and that they should be given a right to reply, as they had not been approached before the show.

At a workshop in November 2018, Brown likened Mbete to former SABC head of news Snuki Zikalala and attributed her conduct to her political interest.

According to the report, Brown's contention was that what had transpired had the hallmarks of political interference at the SABC, which resulted in a chilling effect.

Several witnesses shared their views with the inquiry.

Talk Radio 702 Money Show presenter Bruce Whitfield said it had been embarrassing to witness Brown's outburst towards Mbete at the workshop and wondered why she had chosen a public forum.

He believed station managers were negligent if they did not investigate complaints.

"If you have got a problem with giving somebody a right of reply against something you said, well then you shouldn't have said it. And if you're wrong in saying it, be big enough to say you were wrong, and do it," Whitfield said.

Brown's show was liked

Eusebius McKaiser, who presented the Eusebius McKaiser Show , told the inquiry he did not believe Primedia's reasons for cancelling Brown's show as he felt the show was liked and had been the third most downloaded on 702.

He believed Brown "crossed all her t's and dotted all her i's" as a journalist. When they discussed her show, he was aware that she had pre-emptively contacted the mentioned individuals but they had declined to come on the show.

McKaiser shared his views that Mbete's intervention and instruction of corrective action was unusual as she did not normally take that kind of interest in on-air broadcasts.

He did not know the reasons why Mbete felt Brown should have given the implicated individuals a right of reply.

"It became apparent during the interview that, not only did Mr McKaiser lack personal knowledge of the underlying facts, but that most of his views constitute opinion that could not be applied to the facts since an inquiry such as the one in hand is a fact finding mission, the determination of which will rest on factual evidence," Motau concluded on McKaiser's evidence.

In the same report, Mbete told the inquiry she was offended by Brown's claims of editorial interference, as those sorts of circumstances made her leave her previous employ at the SABC.

Mbete said that part of her job is as editorial custodian of the brand and if multiple complaints were laid, she would be held accountable.

Speaking to News24 on Wednesday, Brown said the report was "a cover-up".

"The report is a cover-up by 702 because it had the opportunity to [institute disciplinary action] when the complaint was laid against me by my station manager. I was never informed about any disciplinary action, and I was never informed about the reasons why management did not discipline me. I only found this out when the inquiry was on," she added.