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 - A group of rowdy protesters who disrupted a planned protest in Cape Town over the alleged removal of Cape Times editor Alide Dasnois on Tuesday were warned to disperse or face arrest.

A policeman told members of the Movement for Transformation of Media in SA (MTMSA) and the SA National Civic Organisation (Sanco) that they had not applied for a protest permit.

After he warned the group of around 150 people to disperse or face arrest in terms of the Illegal Gatherings Act, they slowly left the area.

Earlier, they stormed St George's Mall, where the Right2Know campaign had formally applied to stage a protest in front of Newspaper House at lunchtime.

About 50 media professionals, members of Agang SA and members of the public, including children, stood quietly with posters calling for press freedom.

Several minutes into the protest, the MTMSA joined in, carrying posters stating “Fire racist reporters” and “Fire Tony Weaver”, who defended Dasnois in his recent “Man Friday” column in the Cape Times.

Some wore African National Congress and Sanco shirts. Both groups mingled and shouted their slogans.

Protesters defending Dasnois and media freedom shouted “the ANC is corrupt” and “Zuma is corrupt” while the media transformation group shouted “fire racist reporters” and “transformation now”.

At one point, a man with a R2K T-shirt attempted to divide the two sides to calm the situation.

A minstrels group supporting media transformation joined in the protest and drowned out the shouting from both sides with an upbeat tune.

MTMSA convenor Wesley Douglas claimed they were protesting on the same permit as the R2K organisers.

“We are saying in every democracy around the world you can have a demonstration where you can have the pros and the cons in the same space at the same time. Why can we not have that in South Africa?”

He said they supported the removal of Dasnois, but their protest was about more than one individual. It was about the entire media needing to be transformed.

“Why is it that white media houses are attacking black media owners?” he asked.

He also wanted to know why Dasnois had not approached the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration (CCMA).

Dasnois said last week that she was considering legal action.

“In my opinion, I was unfairly dismissed from my position at the Cape Times,” she said at the time.

“I have taken legal advice and we are considering referring a dispute to the CCMA or the Labour Court.”

Independent News and Media SA (INMSA) chairman Iqbal Surve denied in a statement earlier this month that Dasnois had been fired, but said she had been offered alternative positions in the company.

“Ms Dasnois was not fired,” Surve said.

He said 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's death in its Friday edition. His death was covered in a wraparound 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 chairs Sekunjalo.

The Sunday Times 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.

Sekunjalo 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.

Sapa