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Citizen fires photographer over doctored picture discussion

A photographer who drew attention to the fact that the Citizen newspaper had doctored an image on the front page of its paper has been dismissed with immediate effect, following a disciplinary hearing on Tuesday.

The paper came under fire last week after it emerged that the bodies of two South Africans killed in a suicide bombing in Kabul had been cloned out of a picture sourced from the Agence France-Presse.


Johann "Slang" Hattingh tweeted about the incident shortly after the paper was published and joined a furious discussion about the ethics of the Citizen's actions that broke out on social media.

At the time, the paper said that a decision had been made to blur the images but that they were instead cloned out altogether.

Immediate dismissal
Following the furore, Hattingh was called in for a disciplinary hearing. He was charged with bringing the company name into disrepute by making defamatory comments on Twitter, and with irretrievably damaging the trust relationship between employer and employee.

On Thursday, he was informed of his immediate dismissal.

"I'm quite disappointed with the outcome but obviously I'll take it up further with the CCMA, Hattingh told the M&G. Hattingh said he had argued that it was not him, but the senior editorial staff who had failed to check the page before it went to print, that had brought the company into disrepute.

He said that in hindsight he probably would still have tweeted about the image. "The only think you have in the industry is your name. The moment your name gets tainted, your credibility gets shot."

The sacking came as a blow to Hattingh, who has struggled to find permanent employment after returning to South Africa, following a stint with the UN in Sudan in 2009. Hattingh freelanced for almost three years before he was employed by the Citizen on a permanent basis in August.

An internal matter
The Citizen released a statement on its website on Thursday, saying the dismissal was an internal matter. The paper defended its action saying that there were many examples worldwide of people being dismissed for inappropriate comments on social media, and that it had a responsibility to take action when it and its employees are defamed and false information about them is spread.

"In the matter of the 'cloned' photograph published on September 19, the company has dealt individually with all people who had a role in the serious error. The editor has publicly apologised and is satisfied that such a mistake will not recur," it said.

A previous version of this article stated that Johann Hattingh was the whistleblower on the Kabul photo story. He was, in fact, not. 

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Faranaaz Parker
Faranaaz Parker is a reporter for the Mail & Guardian. She writes on everything from pop science to public health, and believes South Africa needs carbon taxes and more raging feminists. When she isn't instagramming pictures of her toddler or obsessively checking her Twitter, she plays third-person shooters on Xbox Live.

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