The Cape Argus ran a two-page spread following the disrupted Right2Know protest in Cape Town, presenting both sides of view. Those are presented here, along with the Cape Argus editorial leader on the issue.
Cape Argus: It is our duty, as always, to inform…
Every day we bring you the stories of this city and this country. We inform you, engage you, entertain you and involve you in covering issues – good or bad.
We strive to be balanced, positive and objective in shining a mirror on our society – as uncomfortable as the reflection may sometimes be.
When a heated news story comes, as it did yesterday, quite literally on to our doorstep, it’s our duty to report on it as we would any other.
In one of our country’s most draining and emotional weeks following the death of Nelson Mandela, the staff of the Cape Argus last week stayed focused on paying him fitting tribute on these pages.
At the same time, however, a media storm was brewing over the removal by the management of the Independent Newspapers group of Alide Dasnois, the editor of our sister newspaper the Cape Times.
The reasons given have been varied and the issue hotly disputed, with members of the Right2Know campaign yesterday picketing outside our Newspaper House offices at what they believe is an “unprecedented threat to independent journalism” in South Africa.
They were met by members of a body called the Movement for the Transformation of Media in SA, who held a counter protest, demanding “free and fair reporting and true journalistic freedom” and more representation in the country’s media of “the thinking of the black majority”.
Difficult as that reflection was, Newspaper House – for so many decades an important conveyor of this city’s news, challenges, triumphs and difficulties – was as good as any a venue for the debate. Below, we’ve felt it important to give the views of both sides.
It’s difficult, certainly, airing our company’s own dirty laundry in public, but if we subject the public and public figures to scrutiny, so, too, should we be open to it.
At stake is our credibility and public trust. We will respond by staying true to the principles of neutrality, fairness and balance by which this newspaper has always been governed, and which we know – and want – our readers to continue to judge us by.
The South African media needs more transformation, and free and fair journalism, reporting and editing, argues the Movement for the Transformation of Media in South Africa
The Movement for the Transformation of the Media in South Africa (MTMSA) was started to address the lack of transformation in the South African Fourth Estate. The movement is made up of various organisations and individuals concerned with the slow pace of transformation in the media space. We have banded together to place media transformation at the forefront of the minds of people.
MTMSA organisations consist of umbrella bodies including the Western Cape Social Economic Development Forum, which has hundreds of civil society organisations, NGOs and trade unions as members, and runs the Economic Equality Charter Campaign. Other organisations participating in the MTMSA include Sanco (SA National Civic Organisation), Nafcoc, the Youth Progress Forum, churches and various faith-based organisations, the Progressive Professionals Forum and others.
After nearly 20 years of democracy we see that there is a lack of transformation in ownership and management of media houses in South Africa and that there is a trend among media houses to become initiators and participators of political and social change rather than independent commentators and reporters thereof.
We have seen a concerted effort by largely white-owned and white run media houses to discredit black business and political leaders in South Africa while ignoring shortcomings of white compatriots.
Truly they have misappropriated the old adage that says “the pen is mightier than the sword” and rewritten it to read “the pen of media is mightier than the sword of black governance”.
Racially biased and skewed negative reporting is the order of the day and those progressive black business people who dare to come up against the white establishment and take ownership of established media companies have found themselves becoming targets of orchestrated smear campaigns.
They are unable to redress the injustices and imbalances of the past that they inherit as owners, due to calls for political correctness and racial sensitivities. As civil society we hold the buying power in our hands and we are demanding free and fair reporting and true journalistic freedom in SA.
We demand transformation of the media houses and companies so that more black editors, sub-editors, management and staff of colour are appointed, who represent the progressive thinking of the black majority of South Africans, rather than the empowered racially-advantaged few.
MTMSA will embark on a series of boycotts, demonstrations and actions which will support black ownership of media houses and fight against white media monopolies and cartels. We cannot sit back as the platforms of traditional and online media are used to usher in a new era of white domination.
The media is meant to be independent, non-biased and racially impartial but the reporting in South Africa has grown significantly more antagonistic of black business and politicians in general and more and more supportive of white politicians and business people.
Today we will be countering the picket by R2K and Sanef (SA National Editors’ Forum) by picketing at the same time and venue in support of Sekunjalo and its attempts to clean up, diversify and transform its editorial staffing.
We are aware that Mwasa and the reactionary organisations Sanef and Right 2 Know plan to protest outside Newspaper House and have placed demands on Sekunjalo – the new owners of Independent News and Media SA.
Following the removal of Cape Times editor Alide Dasnois, these organisations have been scrambling to have her reinstated.
This is the editor of the only newspaper in the country that did not cover Tata Nelson Mandela’s death (on its front page) a day after he had passed away.
For an editor to miss one of the biggest news stories of the century is reason enough to be axed. Now that Sekunjalo has started a process of transforming the newsrooms, management and content of the newspapers across the country, those protecting narrow neo-liberal and racist white interests are crying foul. These reactionary individuals are now trying to create the impression that media freedom is under siege. How desperate and disingenuous!
The attack on Sekunjalo has got nothing to do with press freedom or the right to know, it has everything to do with the fact the company is prepared to transform a media house that has for more than a century been supportive of colonialism, apartheid and is anti-black in its engagements with society. Is this because they believe only white people can look after the interests of the Fourth Estate? When it comes to real issues like service delivery, poverty, violence against women and children, we don’t see white liberals standing shoulder to shoulder with the black communities, but when white power is under threat they pick up pickets and posters and march.
They want a puppet editor who has very little understanding of news values in a democratic society to be “unconditionally reinstated”. Alternatively, they want a suitable settlement to compensate for all Dasnois’s losses, “including the indignities she has had to suffer”.
Yet we as readers have had to suffer the indignities of her poor editorial choices, and the racist vitriol that gets peddled as news content. Why does Dasnois not follow through on her threat and go to the CCMA with her allegations?
Where were these concerned union members and “media freedom activists” when black editors were fired, redeployed and retrenched at publishers like Media 24, TMG and even Independent?
And then there is the arrogance that can only emanate from the apartheid era. We want “written assurance that Sekunjalo Holdings and Sekunjalo Investments will never again sue, or threaten to sue, any of Independent Newspapers’ titles, editors and editorial staff”. What arrogance!
As a broad-based community movement, we call on Sekunjalo to speed up the transformation process at Independent Newspapers. We want to see more black journalists, black managers and editors and the content of the newspapers reflecting a broader diversity than is the case now.
We call on Sekunjalo to investigate the disparities in salaries between white staff and black staff at Independent Newspapers. We hear that in some case whites are earning about 20 percent more than their black colleagues.
We will also be launching a range of boycotts by all South Africans who love freedom and want to see free and fair journalism, reporting and editing in SA and who, with us, believe the industry needs more transformation.
We will also lobby companies and government to stop placing advertising in these publications and will not stop until true transformation takes place and negative reporting and anti-black reporting are no longer accepted practices.
We are tired of being misrepresented as black South Africans, targeted and lied to by those who pull the strings. We want transformation and we want it now.
We hereby call for a meeting with the Independent group, both with the management and the owners to address the issues of transformation at staffing, editorial, and procurement departments, and BBBEE compliance levels.
Recent developments at Independent Newspapers pose an ‘unprecedented threat to independent journalism in South Africa’, says Right 2 Know in this memorandum to Dr Iqbal Survé
The Right2Know campaign expresses great disquiet at an unprecedented threat to independent journalism in South Africa.
By relieving Cape Times editor, Alide Dasnois, of her post as editor and threatening to sue her and a reporter, Melanie Gosling, you have threatened the editorial independence of the Cape Times.
You summarily removed the editor without any notice or due process after she published a news article covering the Public Protector’s report into the irregular issuing of a tender to one of your companies, Sekunjalo Marine Services Consortium, by the Fisheries Department.
The reasons you gave for Dasnois being summarily removed from her editorship was the declining circulation figures and not putting the death of Nelson Mandela on the front page – an action you described as disrespectful.
We note with dismay that you have changed your reasons as the controversy has deepened.
We put it to you that the circulation figures of other newspapers in the group are declining, with the Cape Times declining the least. None of the other editors was removed.
Further, the Cape Times broke the story of Mandela’s death on Friday, December 6.
This was done in a wrap-around – which covered the front page of the newspaper – which Time magazine selected in its top 14 in the world (and the only one from Africa) of front pages for the story.
The reasons you have provided for your actions appear baseless. Even if your reasons had merit, the speed with which you implemented your decisions flouted all due process and labour law. This suggests that yours was a response to the negative publicity on your part in the tender irregularities alleged by the Public Protector rather than your desire to restructure Independent Newspapers or honour Mandela.
As such, the actions of Sekunjalo Holdings, the controlling shareholder of SIM, are a threat to the editorial independence of the 14 titles around the country that fall under Independent Newspapers.
The implicit threat is that any journalist writing anything the owners disagree with or dislike does so at the risk of being sued or “redeployed”.
The biggest asset of any newspaper is its credibility and the owners should recognise the value of public trust which, in the Independent Newspapers group, is now in a vulnerable state.
The manner in which you have responded to the controversy ensuing from your decision to remove the editor – spinning the incident as a labour relations matter rather than owning up to a lapse in your judgement – suggests that you have little respect for the public’s right to know or for the editorial independence of journalists that produce your newspapers.
We call for:
* Editorial independence: A minimum requirement for the company assuring the public of its commitment to independent journalism would be for an editorial charter to be drafted – and an editorial advisory board to be appointed – by people and institutions entirely independent of the owners of the Independent Newspapers.
* The unconditional withdrawal of all threats to sue the Cape Times editor, Alide Dasnois, and reporter Melanie Gosling.
* The unconditional re-instatement of Alide Dasnois as editor of the Cape Times, should she be willing to return after the treatment meted out to her.
Alternatively, a suitable settlement to compensate for all her losses should be negotiated with her, including the indignities she has had to suffer.
* The written assurance that SIM, Sekunjalo Holdings and Sekunjalo Investments and their chairman, Dr Iqbal Survé, will never again sue, or threaten to sue any of Independent Newspapers’ titles, editors and editorial staff on matters of overwhelming public interest or that involve fair comment
Mandela said: “A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favour.”
We will be maintaining a close vigilance over activities at Independent Newspapers and look forward to your written response within a week.