The former editor of the Cape Times, Alide Dasnois, has now been dismissed as an employee of Independent Newspapers, according to the Open Democracy Advice Centre (Odac).
“We believe that the dismissal of Dasnois, who has worked on five of the group’s publications, three of them as editor, and who was awarded the 2014 Nat Nakasa award for courage and integrity in journalism, has created a chilling effect among the editors and journalists in the Independent Group,” said Odac’s Alison Tilley.
In a statement, Odac said Dasnois was removed from her post as editor of the Cape Times in December 2013 and was offered a position as the editor of a different publication within the group.
“The group then took steps to terminate her employment relationship with it by instituting a disciplinary hearing, which took place in May,” said Odac. “She was charged with multiple charges, the most significant being the decision to run a story about a public protector report on Sekunjalo … as a front page lead on the morning after the death of Nelson Mandela.”
Sekunjalo Consortium is the controlling shareholder of Independent Newspapers, which owns the Cape Times among other newspapers in the country.
“The public protector found, among other things, that Sekunjalo had benefited from an R800-million a year government tender, which was improperly awarded.”
Response from Independent Newspapers
According to the press release, in deciding to dismiss Dasnois, the chairperson of the hearing, Independent Newspapers director Takudzwa Hove, made this finding: “lt has also been demonstrated that the decision not to lead editorially with Mandela’s death was most probably influenced by personal feelings against her new employer hence the publication of the public protector’s report as a lead story on the day.
“lt’s been demonstrated in testimony that there was a deliberate attempt to tarnish Sekunjalo and your actions plus those of other senior members and reporters … brings to question your integrity and that of some senior members of the Cape Times newsroom.
“This demonstrates lack of professional judgement and integrity in that you failed to put aside personal feelings ahead of the interests of the readers of the newspapers by not running the most newsworthy story of the day.”
This, according to Odac, was despite the fact that the Cape Times published a special four-page Mandela edition that morning, containing news about his death, photographs and tributes. Time magazine rated the front page of this edition as one of the best Mandela front pages in the world.
“Dasnois has instituted legal proceedings and will be referring a case to the Labour Court regarding what she will allege is Independent Newspapers’s discriminatory conduct and violation of her right to free speech and editorial independence,” the statement said.
“We believe this case is important in establishing the rights of editors and journalists to publish what is in the public’s right to know. It will be an important test case around the balancing of the rights of media owners and media workers. If we can find 100 people who can each give the Dasnois fund R1 000, we can seek matching and other funds from donors, and have good prospects of running a solid case,” said Tilley.
A previous version of this article, which had incorrectly quote Independent Newspapers’s website, has been updated.