[Source: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/10/27/safrica-hci-idUSL5N0SM3N620141027 by Wendell Roelf.]
The head of South Africa’s largest private free-to-air broadcaster resigned on Monday, hours after losing a court bid to overturn what he described as a politically motivated effort to push him out.
Hosken Consolidated Investments, majority owner of e.tv, last week suspended Marcel Golding from his role as executive chairman of the parent firm, pending a disciplinary inquiry for alleged “gross misconduct”.
Golding said he was suspended from his role at HCI because he resisted political interference in the station’s news content. HCI has denied the charge.
“The relationship of confidence and trust between myself and the board of HCI has broken down due to the manner in which the HCI board has conducted itself,” Golding said in an e-mail sent to staff and seen by Reuters.
He said the circumstances that led to charges being brought against him by HCI “rendered my employment relationship with HCI intolerable”. He has resigned from his role at HCI and from his position as chief executive of e.tv, and now plans to bring charges for unfair dismissal.
No one at HCI was available for comment on the resignation.
Golding earlier on Monday lost a court bid he had hoped would reinstate him at HCI, even as the judge described the allegations of attempted political interference into e.tv as “startling” and reminiscent of apartheid.
The case has fuelled debate about the level of media independence in South Africa two decades into democracy.
HCI has said charges of political interference are “outrageous”. It says it is investigating Golding over his decision to order the purchase of shares in another company without board approval.
A competitor of South Africa’s state broadcaster, e.tv is majority owned by HCI, whose top shareholder is the South African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (SACTWU), an ally of the ruling African National Congress.
In an affidavit submitted to the court to back his accusation of political meddling, Golding quoted an e-mail from fellow HCI board member Yunis Shaik, who, he said, contacted him in March on behalf of Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel.
“I got a call from Minister Patel today. He says that President Zuma this day opened a new dam,” Golding quoted Shaik as saying. “As this is a big story, it might be a good lead story of the day. Please raise with the newsdesk.”
Shaik, a former deputy general of SACTWU, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Patel was not available for comment and a spokesman said he was not able to speak on behalf of the minister.
In Cape Town’s labour court, Judge Anton Steenkamp overturned Golding’s petition to block the suspension from his role at HCI. But the judge also said on Monday that the accusations were reminiscent of South Africa under the period of white-minority rule which ended in 1994.
“The allegations by Golding about interference in the editorial independence of e.tv are serious and, on the face of it, not without substance,” Steenkamp said in his judgement.
“It is indeed startling and harks back to the tragic time in our history when ministers of the apartheid regime sometimes dictated the contents of news broadcasts on the (state broadcaster) SABC.”
Separately, HCI said on Monday that Barbara Hogan, a former government minister, had resigned as an independent non-executive director of the group.
Reuters was unable to reach Hogan for comment.
HCI said in its court filings that it suspended Golding after he ordered the company’s broker to acquire more than 24 million rand ($2.2 million) worth of shares in electronic equipment maker Ellies Holdings without board approval.
Golding said the investment in Ellies was a strategic one to help another group company – a free-to-air satellite broadcaster that uses set-top boxes manufactured by Ellies.
HCI has stakes in several large South African firms, including hotel and gaming group Tsogo Sun.
Golding is HCI’s second-largest shareholder with more than 7 percent of the company, according to Thomson Reuters data.
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