SABC acting group CEO Nomsa Philiso on Wednesday said it was "not normal" to sell interviews, especially on entertainment shows.
This after a preliminary investigation confirmed that the Department of Social Development paid for an interview featuring Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini and her spokesperson, Lumka Oliphant, on Real Talk with Anele in December last year.
"There was payment, from what my team tells me," Philiso said.
She said she was looking into the details of what had transpired, and was speaking to the relevant departments to get to the bottom of the matter.
Selling interviews was not normal practice, she said, especially since politicians belonged in news and not entertainment shows.
The social development department, however, strongly denied there was anything amiss.
R500 000 price tag
The Daily Maverick on Wednesday reported that Oliphant allegedly contacted Anele Mdoda, before pitching it to now retired chief director, Oupa Ramachela.
He reportedly rejected it, but acting chief director and head of legal services Advocate Nkosinathi Dladla later gave it the go-ahead.
The interview apparently came with a R500 000 price tag.
PAY FOR PLAY. @dailymaverick reports the Social Development department allegedly PAID R500 000 for @Anele Mdoda to interview minister Bathabile Dlamini on the SABC's @RealTalkOn3 talk show on @SABC3, and without telling viewers:https://t.co/MZwzp5zqCapic.twitter.com/7RofM9PHuM— TVwithThinus (@TVwithThinus) January 17, 2018
Oliphant said in a statement that the allegations were "a display of gutter journalism to destroy anyone who dares to give a different narrative on minister Bathabile Dlamini".
"The Department of Social Development, through GCIS [Government Communication and Information System], buys media space for the sole purpose of marketing and advertising for the Minister of Social Development, the department and its agencies," she said.
To date, through GCIS, the department has transferred more than R5 million to the SABC for this purpose and we will not be apologetic for investing in the SABC.
"The SABC gives us space across all its platforms on radio, TV and online media. They give us a schedule to agree and be available for."
The public broadcaster was a "strategic partner for communication because it has the reach, the platforms and the languages".
"They have a dedicated sales team to get business from government departments - a standard practice in the media industry. Understanding the lack of resources and personnel in different media houses, the department uses different strategies and different platforms to make sure that the work of the minister and the department receives the necessary coverage.
"We cannot rely on the media to tell our story," Oliphant said in the past, "we have travelled to Las Vegas with an SABC news team when we were nominated for an award", and also "travelled with a team from Carte Blanche to Brazil to fetch our children in distress in that country and we paid".
"It would have been impossible for any media to send and spend its resources to these places. We buy space in different magazines and print media and they choose where, how and when to place them. Our responsibility is to provide content and sometimes artwork and interviewees. The minister is the face of the department and its agencies."
'I have nothing to do with them'
DA social development spokesperson Bridget Masango said in a statement if the allegations were true, Dlamini must personally pay back the money.
"The R500 000 could have paid more than 300 social grants. It is shocking that the department had the audacity to supposedly use public money for an interview. [It] is mandated to serve the poor, needy and vulnerable within our society, it is not mandated to use taxpayers' money to make floundering ministers look good."
She said the DA would submit a range of parliamentary questions to "get to the bottom of this likely abuse of taxpayers' money".
"It is clear that minister Dlamini, like the rest of the ruling ANC, has lost touch with reality, the reality that 17 million South Africans depend on social grants. The DA has long called for 'dodging' Dlamini to be axed from the [department].
"Instead of accounting to Parliament, the minister chose to instead account to a talk show. The interview was nothing more than a fluff piece which cannot negate the damage Dlamini has done."
Mdoda said the furore had nothing to do with her or her on-air team.
The SABC commission the show. They have full say on who comes onto the show. I get a salary from the SABC. DSD deals with the SABC. My producers get a directive and I research and do a show. Please speak to the SABC and not the most famous person...ME...in the story.— Anele Mdoda (@Anele) January 17, 2018
"It is commissioned by the SABC. I am the presenter. I have nothing to do with them."
She said it was implied that she had got paid, which she said is "rubbish".
"For them to insinuate I took money [to do the interview] is ludicrous. I have no dealings with what happens with the Department of Social Development or the SABC. I get a directive of who they would like on the show and that is who we research."
Oh and DAILY MAVERICK. Do that thing you always say you do well. Journalism, like actually researching things. Sending texts and gossip is not investigative journalism. Sanu ndiqela ishit. Understanding how tv works would be the first step here. Keep my name out your damn rubbish— Anele Mdoda (@Anele) January 17, 2018
The SABC owned the show, which she said focuses on personalities and their personal and family lives.