Independent Newspapers group executive editor Karima Brown has issued a statement on the decision by the editor of Business Report Ellis Mnyandu to suspend the ‘Inside Labour’ column, written by Terry Bell for the last 18 years.
“We’ve noted a statement by Cosatu calling on the group to re-instate Mr. Bell’s column. We respect the views of organised labour as a key constituency and a major shareholder in the Sekunjalo consortium that owns Independent Newspapers.,” the statement reads.
“However, our titles are not beholden to any of these constituencies, and will not take instructions from Cosatu, political parties, business interests or anyone else, on who they should retain as contributors. That will remain the prerogative of our editorial teams.
“As part of a wider review and recalibration of all our titles and platforms, we commit to more comprehensive, diverse and inclusive coverage of organised labour, worker issues and the world of work in general.
“Given the competitive nature of our business I will not reveal the details of our plans, except to say that we intend to provide unions, both in and outside Cosatu, space to write and speak for themselves, unmediated by journalists and analysts.
“We do this because we believe workers, and organized labour in particular, represent an important part of the economic, political and social landscape in South Africa,” Brown’s statement concludes.
Earlier, the statement said, Mnyandu had said suspending the column was part of a general review of the paper, including its coverage of labour matters and the roles and responsibilities of its freelance contributors.
Brown said: “Mr. Bell has since taken the matter to the CCMA. I will therefore not discuss the specifics of the matter, except only to re-iterate two points:
THE COSATU STATEMENT (SOURCE: www.cosatu.org.za)
Bring back Terry Bell
The Congress of South African Trade Unions condemns the suspension of Terry Bell’s ‘Inside Labour’ column, which has been appearing every Friday for many years in Business Report, as an insert into the Pretoria News, Johannesburg Star, KZN Mercury and Cape Times, newspapers owned by Independent Newspapers and their new owner, Sekunjalo.
The column has been suspended indefinitely by the new management. Although Terry had been commissioned to submit the first of the year`s columns for last Friday, the editor told him that "the Inside Labour column is on hold until further notice. So I do not expect any column from you until I advise you otherwise".
Although COSATU did not agree with everything Terry Bell wrote, and he did not always agree with COSATU, he was by far the best labour reporter and analyst in the South African media, mixing a meticulous commitment to telling the truth about working-class life, and exposing lies and hypocrisy, with a passionate concern for the problems facing working people, in South Africa and around the worLd.
An Editor’s Note in the Friday edition tries to explain that “in view of a strategic overhaul of Business Report, which forms part of a wider strategic repositioning of Independent Newspapers, I have begun a review of all the material that Business Report acquires from contributors, including Terry.
“As part of this review, Terry’s column has been suspended pending finalisation of Business Report’s strategic plan. Business Report has communicated to Terry that it remains committed to enlist his expertise if and when the need arises.”
In an article in the Cape Argus, Independent Newspaper’s executive editor, Karima Brown - and the opinion and analysis editor and former COSATU spokesperson, Vukani Mde - seek to justify the proposals by Sekunjalo boss, Dr Iqbal Survé, to make “changes to management, staff, the structure of the business, its growth strategies and targets, and even its editorial orientation”.
They correctly say that “a small but very privileged and racially definable minority still controls the tools of public discourse, including the bulk of private commercial media and virtually all the mainstream newspaper groups. The private commercial media represents this minority`s economic and political interests, and presents their world view as the unchallengeable norm, promoting their narrative of South Africa as the dominant, indeed the sole, narrative.”
COSATU agrees wholeheartedly with this, and with their condemnation of the backlash against this restructuring plan from the minority-controlled mainstream media, which “has been ferocious and tinged with racism”. We full agree with their commitment to the transformation of the media, so that it better reflects the lives and views of the majority of the people.
We shall look forward eagerly to see how this transformation of the Independent newspapers takes shape and their new approach to the way issues are reported and discussed.
But how on earth will this process be assisted by the suspension of Terry Bell, one of the most committed advocates of the transformation of the media and indeed society as a whole. No-one has spoken our more consistently and courageously against “small but very privileged and racially definable minority” who dominate our economy, and has campaigned more passionately in support of the workers and the poor?
He ought to be seen as one of the main driving forces behind the drive for transformation, and his suspension therefore raises questions about Survé’s seriousness about this pledge. Bring back Terry Bell now!
Patrick Craven (National Spokesperson)
Congress of South African Trade Unions