Cape Town - Activists, journalists and concerned citizens picketed outside the Cape Times’ offices on Tuesday in a call for editorial independence and the reinstatement of Alide Dasnois as the paper’s editor.
Another group, called the Movement for the Transformation of Media in South Africa (MTMSA), tried to drown out the picketers with singing and music from a band that arrived shortly after the group.
They demanded “all racist reporters” should be fired and claimed there was a lack of transformation in the media.
The movement was started two weeks ago and is made up of the Western Cape Social and Economic Development Forum, the Progressive Professionals Forum and the South African National Civic Organisation, which is an ANC alliance partner.
Police had to intervene to calm tempers, after which most of the movement’s supporters dispersed.
The Right2Know picket went ahead, joined by AgangSA. Right2Know organised the picket after Independent News and Media SA (INMSA) chairman Dr Iqbal Survé removed Dasnois from her position on December 6.
Her removal followed a report by the Cape Times on the public protector’s adverse findings against the Department of Fisheries in the awarding of a tender to one of the companies in the Sekunjalo Group.
Survé has denied accusations that Dasnois was fired over this news report.
On Thursday, Right2Know co-ordinator Mark Weinberg told the protesters that Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu supported their action.
Right2Know handed a memorandum to INMSA, which has a week to respond. The memorandum called for:
* Editorial independence. Right2Know wants a commitment that an editorial charter will be drawn up and an editorial advisory board appointed.
* The unconditional withdrawal of all threats to sue Dasnois and reporter Melanie Gosling;
* The reinstatement of Dasnois as editor; and
* A written assurance by Survé that he will never again sue or threaten to sue any of the group newspapers, editors and reporters.
“You can’t have transformation of media without press freedom. We cannot have an attack on journalists and an attack on editors like we have seen here (at Cape Times),” Weinberg said.
“It cannot go unpunished. Someone must take account. When we say transformation we don’t say put your business friends at the top.”
He said Right2Know picketed because “the owners crossed the line and stepped into editorial just to protect themselves and their own reputation”.
Mary Burton, a former commissioner on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said the relationship between a newspaper and its readers must be built on trust, “a trust that is hard won and all too easily lost”.
“We need to be sure that the people who produce our newspapers are independent and free to tell us the truth. There is no democracy without press freedom,” she said.
MTMSA convener Wesley Douglas said the group protested on Tuesday in defence of Survé.
He said the issue was not press freedom but resistance to transformation in the media.
“We are not saying that there should be no coverage of bad things that happen. There is stuff that are in the best interest of all South Africans to know,” Douglas said.
“The question is: why is it that only black politicians and black business people and what they do negatively (that) is in the press but not what white politicians and white business people are doing?
“There is a disparity in the coverage.”
Asked if the MTMSA had any links to Survé, Douglas said he had no links and had never met him before.
Douglas is also the secretary-general of the African-Chinese People’s Friendship Association.