Capetonians participate in a Right2Know picket for press freedom, editorial independence and against the recent removal of Cape Times editor Alide Dasnois from office in Cape Town on Tuesday, 17 December 2013. Dasnois was recently removed following an article on Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's finding against Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson. It found that the minister was guilty of maladministration and improper and unethical conduct in the awarding of an R800-million tender to a Sekunjalo subsidiary to manage the state's fishery vessels. Cape Times is owned by Independent Newspapers, whose controlling shareholder is Sekunjalo Consortium. Independent News and Media SA (INMSA) chairman Iqbal Surve denied reports that Dasnois was fired, saying she was offered �various other positions� in the company.Picture: Nardus Engelbrecht/SAPA

Cape Town - The Right2Know campaign on Tuesday called for an editorial charter and an editorial advisory board at Independent Newspapers following the alleged removal of Cape Times editor Alide Dasnois.

The R2K campaign handed over a memorandum addressed to Independent News and Media SA (INMSA) chairman Iqbal Surve, in a protest outside Newspaper House in Cape Town.

The memorandum stated that the only way to assure the public of its commitment to independent journalism was to draft a charter and appoint an advisory board “by people and institutions entirely independent of the owners of the Independent Newspapers”.

It called for the withdrawal of all threats to sue Dasnois and reporter Melanie Gosling.

“We call for 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 here,” the statement read.

“Alternatively, a suitable settlement to compensate for all her losses should be negotiated with her, including the indignities she has had to suffer.”

Surve denied earlier this month that Dasnois had been fired, saying she had been offered alternative positions in the company.

“Ms Dasnois was not fired,” Surve said in a statement.

Dasnois, however, has said she was “unfairly dismissed”.

Surve said in a press release that the move formed part of a strategy aimed at arresting poor sales figures.

In a letter to staff three days later, he said the Cape Times's compounded loss of sales, between 2008 and 2012, amounted to 28 percent.

In this letter, Surve also said Dasnois was reprimanded for not leading with the news of former president Nelson Mandela in its Friday edition. His death was covered in a wraparound editorial supplement.

Instead, the front page carried a public protector finding that the awarding of a fisheries tender by the agriculture, forestry, and fisheries department to Sekunjalo Marine Services Consortium was improper.

The consortium is a subsidiary of Sekunjalo Holdings which acquired a controlling share in INMSA earlier this year. Surve also chairs Sekunjalo.

The Sunday Times also ran with the story.

Sekunjalo subsequently laid criminal charges against a Sunday Times editor and a reporter, accusing the Times Media Group of a “dirty tricks” campaign.

It has since decided to drop the charges and lay a complaint with the Press Ombudsman regarding the Sunday Times and Cape Times's coverage, as well as a broader complaint regarding an attack on its integrity in various newspapers in the past two years.

Surve categorically denied that Dasnois's replacement was due to the fisheries tender story.

In its memorandum, the R2K campaign wanted written assurance that none of Sekunjalo's arms nor Surve would ever again sue or threaten any Independent Newspapers' titles, editors and staff “on matters of overwhelming public interest or that involve fair comment”.

Members of the Movement for Transformation of Media in SA (MTMSA) dropped in on the protest over Dasnois's removal on Tuesday, and were later told by police to leave because they did not have a permit.

“We have seen a concerted effort by largely white-owned and run media houses to discredit black business and political leaders in South Africa while at the same time ignoring the shortcomings of their white compatriots,” said MTMSA convenor Wesley Douglas.

“As civil society we hold the buying power in our hands and we are demanding free and fair reporting and true journalistic freedom in South Africa.”

Douglas said the impression was being created that media freedom was under siege.

“The attack on Sekunjalo has got nothing to with press freedom or the right to know, it has everything to do with the fact that 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.”

The movement demanded that more black editors, sub-editors and management staff be appointed.

Boycotts and demonstrations were being planned to support black ownership of media houses.

The movement is made up of the Western Cape Social Economic Development Forum, the SA National Civic Organisation, the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and other bodies.

Sapa