Dali’s sarcastic response stuns commentators

SABC CEO Dali Mpofu is writing lengthy personal responses to his public critics at the SABC – and they are laced with vituperative, bitter attacks which seem totally out of place from a man in such a powerful public position.

He responded to the 37 or so regular media commentators (myself included) who wrote a letter of concern about the alleged SABC “blacklist” with a letter in a tone so sarcastic and petty that it has stunned the recipients.

And so infuriated was he at the criticism offered by the SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) that he forced a grovelling apology out of them, one that has brought huge debate in the organisation because of disagreement over Sanef’s response. (More of that below).

Mpofu’s response to the media commentators’ statement (see my previous posting on this) speaks for itself. It is reproduced verbatim:

Dear Ms Nicole Fritz (who had sent him the statement)

Thank you for your undated note received by me today although incorrectly reported in the media to have been handed to me yesterday. For example, the Citizen of this morning states, falsely and not without other exaggerations and hyperbole, that “In yet another blow to the SABC, more than 30 prominent South Africans have handed over a petition to Mpofu in which they ask for a clear rejection of any erosion of free speech at the public broadcaster.”

I am writing to you based on the assumption that since your letter head is used as the cover of the typed note, you and the other fellow prominent South Africans are in contact and you might therefore be kind enough to disseminate my response to the others. Being myself a self confessed ignoramus I am suitably embarrased to admit that I have never heard of most of them and you. For example I have never personally come across the last name on the list, that of Zane M Wilson, founder of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group.

In your collective defence I must concede that you yourselves have made no bigger claim than that you write as “individuals who comment in the media on our areas of expertise and concerned generally (sic) for the value (sic) of freedom of expression”, in other words experts.

Your note, after making such a promising start by referring to “allegations” and “suggestions” that the SABC will only interview people who hold a particular view, suddenly and inexplicably jumps to the view that the making of these allegations or suggestions is in itself “an abrogation of their (sic) duties and obligations as a public service broadcaster …”

In yet another low blow to the SABC, if I may borrow the phrase, you go on to point out that it, whatever “it” is, taints you all! This is apparently so because if you are quoted by the SABC it must be because you have expressed “sentiments which are politically acceptable” to those who control SABC news and current affairs. Firstly for the most part this “taint” is non-existent or at best self-inflicted to the extent that our News and Current Affairs Divisions after some intensive questioning by me emphatically deny any imminent and present danger of soliciting any political sentiments, whether acceptable or unacceptable to them, from the vast majority of the signatories and feeding these to the unsuspecting public. (I am prepared to swear that this came long before I could threaten them with the SABC gas chamber and beheading sessions we routinely conduct.)

“The SABC must dispel this notion”, the prominent ones continue, emphatically now. “They (sic) need to state clearly any such policy is unacceptable and contrary to the organisation’s (sic) editorial charter”. May I immediately give in to this demand on the simple grounds that whatever “policy” you might be referring to is it most definately not contained in the organisation’s “editorial charter” as we do not have such a thing.

Thank you ever so much for the prominent endorsement of my commision of enquiry. Not to be ungrateful though your statement, in the same breath, that you “would prefer a (sic) commission to be independent rather than internal in nature” is clearly oblivious of the widely reported fact that the proposed commission will be both internal and independent. I attach hereto a copy of the relevant press release, dated 23 June 2006.

The SABC also concedes to your demand that we “demonstrate a willingness to quote those they are accused of “blacklisting”. If they say something quotable we will be the first ones to “demonstrate our willingness” to quote them.

I must however take strong exception to your unsolicited advice on matters pertaining to labour relations, which may or may not, cover your collective “areas of expertise”. This relates to your further injunction that the SABC “must refrain from taking any prejudicial action against those in their employ who seek to attest to the exclusionary or partisan actions of the SABC”. It must be pointed out that “those in our employ” are sufficiently protected from any undue “prejudicial action” by the Constitution of the Republic, the national labour laws as well as our own codes of conduct. I feel that it is yourselves who must refrain from dishing out free legal advice where it is not needed or competent. This would amount to a blow below the belt, not to stretch the metaphor.

Finally you state that until the SABC clearly refutes the blacklisting it will be difficult for a self-respecting commentator, analyst or expert to agree to be interviewed. Firstly, on this point, our own view is that countless (clearly non-self respecting) commentators, analysts and experts are finding it easy to be interviewed on a daily basis on SABC radio and television. The sell-outs! Or could it be because that any self-respecting commentator, analysts or expert is or should be aware of our statement dated 2o June 2006 which, in my book, clearly and unequivocally refutes the allegations, starting with the words “The SABC would like to state that the news division has not imposed any blanket bans on the use of individual commentators …” (See Annexure B hereto) There you have it, in black and white. The veracity of this refutal is obviously the subject of an independent inquiry.

In the light of this evidence contained in Annexure B and since we clearly met your demands more than a week prior to you making them, we must conclude that you will no longer be reluctant to agree to be interviewed, needless to say, only in the event that those in our employ upon all available evidence, including your brilliant petition, are of the view that your expertise will assist the public we serve.

The matter, in my view, is now “cleared up”, hopefully to the satisfaction of Your Prominences.

On a more serious note, if your group is prepared to engage on this issue outside the media posturing, the grandstanding, and the inarticulate memorandums, I will be happy to meet shortly.

Yours faithfully,

Dali Mpofu
Group CEO:SABC

Never mind the mysterious “sics” that pepper the letter, never mind Mpofu’s growing passion for pointing out errors made by the printed media, never mind the mystery of how a man in one of the most demanding jobs in the country finds the time – and the need – to compose such missives, one has to have a great sense of disappointment that he should drag an important debate over important issues to such a low level.

Also worrying is the way he appears to be pre-empting the outcome of his own commission. Why has he called a commission if he has already decided that no such blacklist exists?

Mpofu responded to a Sanef letter in a similiar tone. At Sanef’s subsequent meeting with Mpofu and his head of news, Snuki Zikalala, Mpofu was so angry that he succeeded in getting the editors to issue the following apology (which he himself vetted before it went out, so cowed were Sanef):

Following on a letter sent by Sanef (ATTACHED) to SABC Group CEO Dali Mpofu on June 6 regarding the Unauthorised: Mbeki film, the Sanef management committee held a meeting with Adv Mpofu and other SABC executives on June 20. This meeting was convened after a reply letter from Mr Mpofu dated 12 June.

At this meeting, Mpofu raised a serious concern regarding the publication of the contents of the letter in newspapers before he had had the opportunity to see it. Sanef regrets this oversight.

The meeting further deliberated the substantive issues around the cancelled broadcast of the film and there was a sharing of views in this regard. Mr Mpofu raised his further objections to Sanef prejudging the merits of the dispute without giving the SABC, which has some of its editors as Sanef members, an opportunity to air its side of the story. Sanef apologises for this haste.

Sanef appreciates the fact that on June 14 the SABC gave the South African public a full statement and substantive explanation that sketches out what happened and why the broadcast was cancelled. The intention behind the letter from Sanef was to implore the SABC to do exactly that.

Sanef is of the opinion that when and whether the documentary shall be aired can best be resolved by the SABC and the producers meeting and hopefully finding each other.

Joe Thloloe
SANEF Chairperson
083-791-1792

Elizabeth Barratt
SANEF Deputy Chairperson
083-442-3576

The leadership of Sanef have had lengthy debates over this response. Some felt that it had been inappropriate for Sanef to castigate one of its own members in this way. Others were reluctant to offer such an unqualified apology. Sanef was, admittedly, in a difficult position, as the SABC is one of its most powerful members and largest funders.

3 thoughts on “Dali’s sarcastic response stuns commentators

  1. I agree that Dali’s response has been childish and not at all what you would expect from a CEO. He’s taking the criticism personally. On a tangent, as an SABC journalist myself, I think that apart from the recent furore on the analysts, that SABC Radio News is pretty damn good and yet is almost always painted with the same tarnished brush as our television colleagues. There’s a vast difference between AM or PM live and the 7pm TV news.

  2. If an institution such as Sanef bows down to Snuki and Dali, then there is actually no hope. I’m actually quite disappointed that they did this. Although I understand why they apologised (ok, not fully, but let’s leave it at that), it’s as bad as letting an advertiser control editorial. If the SABC withdrew its support in the face of the letter Sanef sent, then they’d just expose an even uglier underbelly – one which we already know exists. Sanef should’ve stood firm and not be cowed because now there is no professional body that can take them on. In fact, I’m sure the SABC bigwigs are patting themselves on the back saying how smart they are that they “own” Sanef. It’s a sad day for journalism…

  3. I find it difficult to believe that a man in such a powerful position is 1. so thin skinned and
    2. writes so badly.

    He needs counselling.

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