Axed Sunday Times deputy editor Jan-Jan Joubert is expected to take the publication to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).
Sunday Times editor Bongani Siqoko told News24 on Wednesday that Joubert’s employment was terminated on January 19.
“He submitted his leave for appeal on January 23. On February 9 the appeal was upheld and on the same day he informed us he has referred the matter to the CCMA (Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration),” said Siqoko.
When approached for comment on Thursday, Joubert said: “No, I have no comment.”
When asked to confirm whether he was taking the matter to the CCMA, he dropped the call.
Siqoko said Joubert’s disciplinary hearing was held on January 16 and 19.
Joubert was found guilty of gross misconduct after facing two charges.
He faced a charge of intentionally or negligently failing to disclose to the editor a potential conflict of interest.
Complaint to ombudsman
“His participation in the Democratic Alliance (DA) recruitment process conflicted directly or indirectly with his subsequent writing of a news report involving the party or individuals associated with the process,” said Siqoko.
He said the news report was an article titled: “DA mum on resignation of policy chief Gavin Davis“, that the paper published on October 30, 2017.
Siqoko revealed that the second charge related to an incident on June 28, 2017, when Joubert intentionally abused his professional position, privilege and power as deputy executive editor: Parliament, politics and opinion. This by inappropriately, and without professional cause, sharing confidential information entrusted to him by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) with its political opponent the DA, “in conflict with his ethical, contractual and professional obligations and expectations”.
Joubert pleaded not guilty to both charges.
“After both parties presented their case, the chairman of the hearing found him guilty on both charges,” he said.
DA MP Gavin Davis had laid a complaint with the Press Ombudsman about the article published on October 30, 2017.
Use of anonymous sources
Joubert and Thabo Mokone reported that the DA had thrown a veil of secrecy over the resignation of its policy chief and head of media, Davis, “who quit in the middle of the party’s policy formulation process ahead of the 2019 elections”.
Davis’ resignation was allegedly over differences of opinion with colleagues about the formulation of policies and communication strategies.
Joubert and Mokone claimed that a source in the DA alleged that Davis, a member of Helen Zille’s inner circle during her tenure as party leader, was disgruntled with the DA’s policy direction under its present leader, Mmusi Maimane.
The article also alleged that sources said Davis did not see eye to eye with the DA’s new director of communication, Siviwe Gwarube. Gwarube denied this allegation.
Davis complained that the journalists did not avoid the use of anonymous sources and did not take care to corroborate information – with special reference to the alleged tension between Gwarube and himself.
Davis said he was also not given right of reply and the journalists did not avoid a conflict of interest.
Matter for the paper to consider
He said the conflict of interest argument was relevant since Joubert applied for the position of DA executive director of communications in May 2017.
He said the person who was appointed to the position of executive director of communications instead of Joubert was Gwarube – one of the subjects of the article in question.
“It would seem to be an elementary tenet of media ethics that journalists recuse themselves from reporting on a person they were recently in competition with for a position. There is, for instance, a possibility that the journalist may be harbouring a sense of personal disappointment at that person being selected instead of him, or he may have ambitions of replacing her should she vacate the position,” he said.
Tiso Blackstar legal editor Susan Smuts argued: “[Gwarube’s] comment to the allegation was reported and no further mention was made of her. For the record, Thabo Mokone (co-author of the article) was the reporter who sought a response from Ms Gwarube.”
She said that to the extent that there may or may not have been a conflict of interest with regard to Joubert applying for the job with the DA – this was a matter for Sunday Times or The Times to consider and deal with internally.
Press Ombudsman Johan Retief dismissed Davis’ complaint.
Retief, however, said in his ruling that he believed: “The newspaper should hold Joubert accountable for not declaring his interests in this specific case.
“I cannot find that the newspaper was conflicted. I believe its journalist could have been – and, therefore, I leave it to the publication to address this potentially extremely serious situation in any way it sees fit.”
Davis appealed the ruling, and the head of the Press Council’s appeal panel Judge Bernard Ngoepe upheld the leave to appeal.
However, following this, an apology to Davis was carried in several Tiso Blackstar titles.
The apology carried in Business Day said: “Business Day online apologises to Gavin Davis, former policy chief of the Democratic Alliance (DA), for failing to offer him a right of reply to allegations made in ‘DA mum on resignation of policy chief Gavin Davis’. Mr Davis rejects the allegations contained in the story as having no merit. We accept that our failure led to a one-sided account of the circumstances that led to his resignation. We apologise for the breach”.
In light of the outcome of the case involving Joubert , the SA National Editors Forum (Sanef) reiterated the need for independent and ethical journalism.
The organisation also noted the important words in the preamble to the Press Code.
The code states: “As journalists we commit ourselves to the highest standards, to maintain credibility and keep the trust of the public. This means always… acting independently.”
Sanef said it stood by the code “as the country was entering an intense period of political campaigning as we prepare for the 2019 elections.
“Throughout the lead-up to the elections, the elections themselves and beyond it is critical that journalists maintain their political independence and report with integrity and without fear or favour.”
It said it would continue to promote the principles of independent, quality, ethical and diverse journalism “to ensure free and fair elections.
“Sanef will continue to promote the principles of independent, quality, ethical and diverse journalism.”