Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Why did Chris Whitfield jump ship?

A recent Cape Times opinion article criticising the paper's coverage of Nelson Mandela's death was the last straw, insiders say, for a senior editor who is now bowing out of Independent Newspapers.

Chris Whitfield, the editor-in-chief of the group's Cape titles, said this week that he would take "early retirement" but would not comment on his reasons. Whitfield's departure follows the fracas sparked by the dismissal of Cape Times editor Alide Dasnois by Independent's new owner, Iqbal Survé.

Dasnois has confirmed that she has lodged a dispute with the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, due to be heard on January 24.

According to senior Independent staffers who asked to remain anonymous, employees are "paranoid" about their future in the company, with some warning of a coming "exodus" owing to unhappiness over Survé's ­management style.

Dasnois was told not return to work last month after she ran a front-page story on a report by the public protector that implicated Survé's company, Sekunjalo.

This was folded inside a wrap-around feature on Mandela, who had died the night before.

Employment options
Survé later said he did not fire her but offered her a different position in the company.

He cited falling circulation and concerns over the Cape Times's editorial direction. Company chief executive Tony Howard said the paper's Mandela coverage was particularly problematic.

After Dasnois was removed, the newspaper published numerous letters and opinion pieces both criticising and supporting Survé's decision.

Shortly before Christmas it published a piece by Zenzile Khoisan, a former reporter at the Cape Times's sister newspaper, the Cape Argus, complaining that its Mandela coverage was "at best, mediocre and at worst, a betrayal of everything this entire fourth estate is about".

Khoisan, said to have been dismissed from the Argus after serious disciplinary incidents, accused Dasnois, Whitfield and assistant editors Tony Weaver and Janet Heard of a "spectacular lapse in editorial judgment".

He could not be reached for comment.

Accusations of inaccuracy
Weaver, who manages the paper's opinion pages, reportedly raised objections about Khoisan's article with Dasnois's replacement editor, Gasant Abarder.

He allegedly complained that the article was inaccurate and that it would be "inappropriate" to publish it as the ex-staffer may have had an axe to grind with Whitfield and others.

Other staff worried that Khoisan's article might have been "co-ordinated" from above, because he emailed it directly to Survé, who then passed it down the line through group executive editor Karima Brown.

Abarder said: "The piece by Khoisan wasn't commissioned. Khoisan offered it to me personally. It was my prerogative to publish the piece.

"There were a range of opinions in the wake of Alide's departure and I ran all of them in the Cape Times in the interests of fairness and balance."

Editorial 'commissariat'
Senior staff are concerned that Survé is assembling a group-level hierarchy above the individual editors, led by Brown and an executive to be appointed to be in charge of opinion and analysis.

One observer worried that this might serve as an editorial "commissariat" that could dilute editors' independence.

Brown said: "As the group executive editor, I deal with all matters editorial in consultation with all line functionaries of all platforms, especially all editors. In line with this practice, I forwarded the piece to Abarder, the Cape Times editor, for his consideration. The decision to run with it was his to make."

She added: "The piece was brought to my attention by the executive chairperson because it was sent to him by the writer."

* Got a tip-off for us about this story? Email [email protected]

The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Mkhize tenders resignation as Ramaphosa calls top six meeting, fueling...

Mkhize’s resignation and the top six meeting are the clearest indicators yet that Ramaphosa is intending to make a much-anticipated cabinet reshuffle

Zuma funder link in Phoenix killings

Weapons have been seized from a number of security companies owned by ANC-linked individuals who are loyal to the former president

More top stories

Markets react as Mboweni steps down in Ramaphosa cabinet reshuffle

ANC economic policy head Enoch Godongwana takes over the finance portfolio

Mkhize tenders resignation as Ramaphosa calls top six meeting, fueling...

Mkhize’s resignation and the top six meeting are the clearest indicators yet that Ramaphosa is intending to make a much-anticipated cabinet reshuffle

Zuma funder link in Phoenix killings

Weapons have been seized from a number of security companies owned by ANC-linked individuals who are loyal to the former president

ANC factions united on Zweli Mkhize

Despite agreement that it would be politically ‘unwise’ for the president to remove the health minister before the Special Tribunal makes its decision on the application by the Special Investigating Unit, he may have just done so
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×