SABC contributing editor Vuyo Mvoko’s constitutional rights to freedom of expression were infringed by the public broadcaster’s decision to ‘punish’ him by taking him off air for an article in which he criticised its management. This, says a Weekend Argus report, is argued in Mvoko’s application for leave to appeal against the dismissal of his application to have his contract enforced.

Gauteng High Court (Johannesburg) Judge Fritz van Oosten dismissed Mvoko’s application, saying it was premature because the SABC was still investigating the matter and had not yet taken a decision to terminate the contract. The decision to take him off air was temporary, pending the outcome of this investigation, the judge said.

But Mvoko’s lawyers argue Oosten failed to decide whether it was constitutionally permissible for the public broadcaster to punish the journalist for criticising its management in the article. That the contract provided for Mvoko’s services to be suspended should the broadcaster decide to investigate an alleged breach of the contract should not trump his constitutional rights, his lawyers argue. The court ‘did not appreciate that the applicant’s case was robust against any ‘procedural’ or contractual constraints since both of these were being challenged for their breach of the highest law in the land, the Constitution,’ his lawyers argue.

It was also incorrect for the court to accept that the SABC was ‘investigating’ the alleged breach of contract, since its case was always that the article constituted a breach of the contract by bringing the public broadcaster into disrepute. In fact the SABC was merely weighing whether or not to terminate the contract in light of the breach, not seeking to discover whether or not there had been one. The report adds that Parliament’s Communications Committee is to meet tomorrow (Tuesday) for a hearing on the SABC saga.

Full Weekend Argus report