Tony Weaver, opinions editor at the Cape Times, has been charged with unacceptable behaviour following what appears to be a decision to influence an editorial position at the paper in favour of an advertiser.
Weaver was opposed to the decision and the advertiser told the Mail & Guardian that they were unaware of the incident.
The M&G has reliably learnt that Weaver and other senior editors clashed when Weaver questioned an attempt to change a photograph in a news story, purportedly to save the reputation of an advertiser.
This follows a number of high profile staff exits from the Independent Media newspapers group which owns the Cape Times.
Its former editor, Alide Dasnois, came under fire after she chose to run a lead story critical of the Sekunjalo Group, which owns the Independent group, the morning after Nelson Mandela’s death.
However, the group says it took issue with her decision because the paper did not lead with Nelson Mandela’s death, although the Cape Times ran a wraparound about Mandela. Dasnois is challenging her removal in the Labour Court.
‘Pick n Pay’
In Weaver’s case, the story in question was about a mall robbery in Cape Town. The photograph used to illustrate the story prominently featured Pick ‘n Pay’s signage, as the store was situated near to where the robbery occurred. A security guard was killed during the heist. The story was published on October 20.
According to impeccable sources, the photograph was first discussed in a pre-publication planning meeting with the senior editorial staff. The M&G understands that a senior Cape Times editor said the photograph showing the Pick ‘n Pay sign should be cropped because the outlet was a major advertiser, and the Cape Times did not want to lose Pick ‘n Pay’s business.
A number of sources with knowledge of the meeting were able to confirm this. The following day, Weaver allegedly asked if a policy could be established dealing with how such images should be used in the future.
He was apparently asked to leave the meeting.
The M&G has reliably learnt that his disciplinary hearing has been set down for November 5. Weaver declined to comment. The M&G was unable to reach his lawyer for comment as he was in meetings on Friday afternoon.
Pick ‘n Pay spokesperson, Tamra Veley, said, “We have no knowledge of this and we would never ask the media to compromise any standards of ethical reporting.”
Cape Times editor, Gasant Abarder, said that he was not allowed to comment “by law” as the matter was internal and the Labour Relations Act prevented him from doing so. “Please understand that it’s not that I don’t want to comment; it’s just that I can’t comment,” Abarder said.
Craig McKune is a reporter at the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, Amabhungane.