INDEPENDENT Media and former Cape Times editor Alide Dasnois reached a settlement yesterday in a Labour Court case in which she had sued the company over her removal from the post in December 2013.
Independent described the settlement as a vindication of the view that it has an “absolute right to act against any editor demonstrating poor editorial judgment, and that the adverse market performance of a newspaper is a legitimate reason for an editor’s removal”.
The matter between Independent and Dasnois came to a head on the evening of December 5, 2013, when the founding leader of the country’s democracy, Nelson Mandela, died.
“In line with pre-existing Mandela coverage plans, similar to every other newspaper house in South Africa, Independent’s titles recalled all their front pages from the presses and redesigned these to lead with the news of Madiba’s passing,” the company said.
“The exception to this in the Independent Group – and unique among all major papers here and across the world – was Dasnois’ Cape Times.”
Independent Media executive chairman Dr Iqbal Survé said: “Alide Dasnois will forever be known as the editor who failed to tell the story of the death of Nelson Mandela on the front page of the newspaper she edited.
“No other editor in the world would have recorded his death on a wraparound.”
Dr Survé said that by opting for a wraparound, Dasnois had deprived readers of the Cape Times of the right to read what had happened to Mandela the night before.
“The Cape Times is a newspaper of record in the city hosting Parliament, and I was astounded that it did not cover his death on page one,” Dr Survé said.
As for the stories that circulated at the time that Time magazine had placed the wraparound among the top 15 in the manner in which Mandela’s death was covered, Dr Survé said: “I believe it’s a fabrication, something that came after the fact. This excuse was used by Alide and her colleagues because they realised they had made a huge mistake.
“When we called an editors’ forum and asked every editor whether they would have even considered a wraparound for the story of Madiba’s death, every one of them said, ‘Absolutely not!’.
“I really feel sorry for Alide, who chose to reduce her entire career to one indefensible decision based on everything but editorial imperatives that night.
“Deep down, in her heart of hearts, she knows this was wrong. I wish her well in her future career.”
The company viewed her actions as gross negligent conduct, unbecoming an editor of the premier paper of record for South Africa’s parliamentary capital, and on the basis of this error of judgment alone, Dr Survé removed her from the Cape Times.
Subsequent to this, Dasnois faced a disciplinary charge for gross misconduct and dereliction of duty. She was found guilty and dismissed from the company.
In suing the company in the Labour Court, alleging discrimination and unfair dismissal, she claimed R4 million as payment for 38 months’ salary.
In its statement, Independent Media said that on several occasions over the last two years, Dasnois had attempted to conclude the matter in return for a substantial financial payout. Independent had consistently rejected this, believing that the matter of her decision on the night of December 5, had to be ventilated in open court.
“We have also held that Dasnois’ attempts to frame the matter as one of press freedom and editorial prerogative made it even more important to settle the matter in court,” the statement said.
“It remains our view that Dasnois’ case was flimsy, had no basis in law or the constitution, was driven by quixotic public posturing, and had nothing to do with issues of press freedom.
“Incidentally, on November 14, 2013, Independent’s senior management, including Dasnois’ editorial colleagues, advised the company’s incoming chairman, Dr Iqbal Survé, to remove Dasnois from the Cape Times as a result of the paper’s dismal performance. The new chairman was also concerned with the lack of diversity in the Cape Times newsroom that Dasnois ran, with not a single African senior reporter or sub-editor at the newspaper. This was out of line with the positioning of the company under its new owners.”
Yesterday’s agreement, which has been made an order of court, represents the full and final settlement between the company and Dasnois, and concludes all outstanding matters between them.
“For all the public posturing over the last two years, it remains an incontrovertible fact that Dasnois made a mistake that will forever be a mark on her career.”