Cape Times editorial staff worried about independence

09 December 2013 - 19:19
By Sapa
Cape Times editor Alide Dasnois
Cape Times editor Alide Dasnois

Cape Times editorial staff expressed concern that the newspaper's editorial independence was under threat.

But Independent News and Media SA (INMSA) chairman Iqbal Surve denied reports that its former editor Alide Dasnois was fired, saying she was offered "various other positions" in the company.

The Cape Times's editorial staff said in a statement: "We, the overwhelming majority of editorial staff of the Cape Times, wish to register our deep anger and protest at the dismissal of our esteemed editor Alide Dasnois.

"Although Dasnois was told three days ago not to return to work, staff have still not been officially informed of the reason for her sudden dismissal.

"The staff's concern, from the sequence of events, is that the new owners of the newspaper, Sekunjalo Independent Media, are attempting to compromise the editorial independence of the Cape Times.

"If this is so, this is a direct threat to the standing and independence of this proud newspaper," said the statement, that was supported by editorial staff at the Cape Argus and The Star.

However, Surve said he "remained fully committed to the editorial independence of all our journalists and editors".

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

"When she was removed as executive editor she was offered various other positions in the company to which I still await a response."

He was responding to concerns voiced by the SA National Editors' Forum (Sanef) and Cape Town Press Club that Dasnois may have been fired after the newspaper ran a story on Friday which painted Sekunjalo in a negative light.

The story was about 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 and acquired a controlling share in INMSA earlier this year.

Sekunjalo Investments subsequently sent a lawyer's letter to the Cape Times claiming that the story was inaccurate.

Surve said that since Sekunjalo joined INMSA, it had been clear that there would be changes in Independent's print titles and other platforms to boost competitiveness and ensure sustainability.

"While it is not the practice to discuss staff changes in public because of how it could affect the integrity and privacy of my employees, the sustained campaign to vilify me and INMSA has forced me to outline some aspects of the strategic repositioning of the business publicly," he said.

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

"Given the distorted picture now being peddled in the public about the motives for the changes at the paper, it is necessary to remind everyone of the wholly unsatisfactory sales performance of that title over the last few years."

Surve said the Cape Times's compounded loss of sales, between 2008 and 2012, amounted to 28 percent.

"Under these circumstances, the new owners of the paper have every right and an obligation to make changes aimed at arresting the situation."

He said Gasant Abarder was appointed editor of the Cape Times in place of Dasnois.

"In conclusion I want to state for the record that I, together with the leadership of this group, remain fully committed to the editorial independence of all our journalists and editors."

Earlier, Sanef and the Cape Town Press Club called for the reasons behind her dismissal to be made public.

The Cape Town Press Club called on Sekunjalo to reinstate Dasnois immediately with a full apology.

"We note that Sekunjalo has also approached the Press Ombudsman in this regard. This should have been their first port of call, instead of firing Ms Dasnois."

The Mail & Guardian reported that Dasnois was seeking legal advice on the matter.