Journalist Sam Mkokeli is taking Bloomberg to the CCMA after a warning from the company regarding his social media activity.
Bloomberg instituted disciplinary processes against the veteran journalist in 2018, noting Mkokeli’s social media posts had violated its social media policy.
The arbitration hearing took place on Thursday in Johannesburg and was attended by Mkokeli and his representative, Clifford Levin, as well as Bloomberg’s HR partner, Gabrielle Phillips.
Phillips also attended Mkokeli’s internal disciplinary hearings in 2018.
One of the first tweets that got Mkokeli into trouble on December 13, 2018, was a picture of Telecommunications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams in which she was walking. The tweet was posted just before she was announced as minister on November 22, 2018.
The tweet, translated to English, was captioned: “Here’s the walk.”
Bloomberg was of the view the tweet had speculated she would soon become the telecommunications minister.
Phillips maintained Mkokeli broke the news via Twitter instead of Bloomberg, which she said violated company policy.
“To be honest with you, this warning has to do with the fact that this [news] was broken on Twitter. This potentially breaking news was published to people on Twitter who don’t pay for news. The fact is that our Bloomberg clients didn’t have access to this information as quickly as it could have been,” she said.
“From the company’s perspective, he has posted pictures of a potential government official alluding to the fact that something is going to happen.”
Levin, however, insisted the tweet had not stated any fact.
“From my perspective, it’s a quantum leap that you are making. If [the post] had stated, ‘this is the next telecommunications minster’, with a picture, then he has been in violation [of the company’s policy].
“Without hindsight, we don’t know any information pertaining to this [tweet] … my case is … there is no speculation that this person is going to become telecommunications minister,” he added.
The second tweet prompted Bloomberg to summon Mkokeli to another disciplinary hearing the day after the first one.
On December 10, 2018, Mkokeli posted an article written by Eyewitness News on Facebook with the headline “ANC’s Pule Mabe accused of sexual harassment by his PA”.
When he shared the post, he commented Thixo ka Fransman! that loosely translates into “God of Fransman” – a reference to ANC member Marius Fransman who faced sexual assault charges that was later withdrawn by the National Prosecuting Authority.
The hearing was grounded on Mkokeli having “expressed subjective opinion”, which is also against the company’s social media policy.
Levin said this was not true.
“He does not believe he tainted his objectivity by linking another person to sexual harassment as is within the ANC,” he said.
Phillips, however, said he did.
“The social media policy is very clear. On page one, it says specifically not to offer opinions on any area or beat that you cover. I think the company’s view here was that as [a] government reporter, he posted an article but he also had comments on there that associated someone who had not been charged with someone who had been charged.”
She added the text opened the matter up to interpretation and “that is exactly what the company doesn’t want from its journalists, we have to make sure that they are considered impartial and that they don’t hold specific views”.
On social media, Mkokeli has been vocal about what he calls Bloomberg’s “lily white leadership structure”.
He alleged the company had cooked up fresh charges against him in a bid to boot him out of the company.
Levin said they put this in place because they were looking for reasons to discipline him.
“Mkokeli has been acting in this manner for a considerable period of time and he was initially, as per his evaluations, he was applauded for his style and only once he had raised a grievance and these things had come to the fore, was he now criticised for what he had been doing all along,” he added.
Phillips responded that she did not agree.
“There are specific tweets [that] were dealt with. He tweeted and the manager talked to him and said, ‘I’m not happy with this’, so to say he was just tweeting and no one was doing anything – they were actually dealt with…”
“The company had addressed this before the grievance, the company addressed tweets in August and the grievance was laid in September,” Phillips said.
Judgment on the matter is expected in the coming days.