IG must investigate what SSA was up to at the SABC - Gavin Davis

DA MP says he suspects presence of spooks at public broadcaster has nothing to do with state security and everything to do with COO's paranoia

Inspector-General of Intelligence requested to investigate SABC spy allegations

30 August 2015

The DA has written to the Inspector-General of Intelligence, Advocate Faith Radebe, to request an investigation into allegations that the State Security Agency (SSA) is spying on SABC journalists and support staff.

According to Hannes Du Buisson, President of the Broadcast Electronic Media and Allied Workers' Union (Bemawu):

SSA personnel instructed SABC employees in Durban to leave their offices, and spent between 2 and 3 hours per office for a purpose unknown to the employees;

SABC employees were instructed to keep quiet about this and were threatened with action should they tell anybody; and

SABC employees fear that secret surveillance equipment was installed in their offices. 

When asked to confirm or deny the allegation, a State Security Agency spokesperson appeared to confirm it with this rather sinister response: “The SABC should explain to its employees what it is that the SABC itself has done in the past which might have involved an agency like ours.”

It seems as if the SSA fails to understand that the SABC is an independent public broadcaster protected by the Constitution. This means that SABC journalists and support staff must be free to report the news without being intimidated by intelligence operatives.

We know that SABC Chief Operating Officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng is paranoid about so-called “leaks” from concerned whistle-blowers at the SABC. In November, when the DA released a document that revealed former Chairperson Ellen Tshabalala had extended Motsoeneng’s power to act as CEO, Motsoeneng summoned staff members to a meeting. The DA is reliably informed that Motsoeneng accused staff members of leaking documents, before threatening that the culprits would be found and immediately dismissed.

Following the meeting, the SABC’s forensic unit began an investigation in which staff laptops were seized in an attempt to find evidence of the ‘leak’. It was around this time that Motsoeneng sent a letter to the DA accusing us of illegally obtaining confidential SABC documents and “condoning the misconduct by some SABC employees who continue to steal information from the SABC.”

Given this culture of paranoia, we suspect that the presence of spooks at the SABC has nothing to do with state security, and everything to do with Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s own insecurity.

It goes without saying that whistleblowing is a legitimate practice in the fight against corruption. It is certainly not a valid reason for state intelligence officials to spy on SABC employees. Indeed, the State Security Agency’s mandate specifically excludes “lawful political activity, protest, activism and dissent” as set out in the amended National Strategic Intelligence Act, 1994.

We therefore request the Inspector-General of Intelligence to investigate:

Whether or not State Security Agency officials are engaged in surveillance of SABC journalists and support staff;

If so, whether or not the State Security Agency has a legitimate reason for spying on SABC journalists and support staff; and

Whether the request for the State Security Agency involvement emanated from the SABC itself.

The public broadcaster should be a bastion of transparency, where journalists and support staff are free to ply their craft, and free to speak out against power abuse. Instead, the SABC is being turned into a place where employees fear speaking out against management, and feel constrained in what they can and cannot report on.

We trust that the Inspector-General of Intelligence will play her part in eradicating the culture of fear of paranoia that pervades the SABC.

Statement issued by Gavin Davis MP, DA Shadow Minister of Communications, August 30 2015