Over the past few months, there have been much press coverage of the SABC’s treatment and dismissal of 8 journalists who defied the public broadcaster’s controversial mandate prohibiting the footage of destruction of public property during protests.
In the 26 July judgment, the Labour Court (“LC”) ruled that the SABC’s dismissal of the four journalists was unlawful. In addition, the Judge LeGrange stated that the SABC must reinstate the journalists immediately, with an interdict issued against any further disciplinary action against them. The court also ordered that the SABC employees responsible for the journalists’ dismissal must provide motivation to the court why they should not be held liable for costs in their personal capacity (our emphasis).
Amongst other things, the journalists alleged that the SABC had contravened their constitutionally enshrined right to freedom of expression. Although not in a position to rule on the constitutional invalidity of the mandate in question, the LC stated in its judgment that all journalists have ethical and constitutional obligations that can be found in the ICASA Code, the BCCSA Code and the Press Council Code. Amongst these obligations were that the news must be “presented in the correct context and in a fair manner, without intentional or negligent departure from the facts, whether by distortion, exaggeration, or misrepresentation, material omissions, or summarization.” Later in its judgment, the LC went on to state that:
“Quite apart from its contractual jurisdiction, under s 157(2) of the Labour Relation Act, the Labour Court also has concurrent jurisdiction with the High Court “...in respect of any alleged or threatened violation of any fundamental right entrenched in Chapter 2 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, and arising from employment and from labour relations…”
In addressing the arguments made in this case, the LC looked at Steenkamp & others v Edcon Ltd, in which the Constitutional Court found that the Labour Relations Act (“LRA”) does not contemplate an invalid dismissal. Based on this, the SABC claimed that the LC had no jurisdiction to provide such remedies, however, the LC found that this did not mean that such remedies do not exist or that the LC cannot grant them if they do exist.
On the back of this case, the 8 journalists have applied to the Constitutional Court to have the broadcaster's policy of refusing to air protest footage declared unconstitutional.