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Independent vindicated as Dasnois settles over Mandela coverage

Independent Media and former Cape Times editor Alide Dasnois have reached a settlement in the Labour Court case in which she was suing the company over her December 2013 removal from the post.
Independent is satisfied that this conclusion represents a vindication of our consistent position, which is that the company has an absolute right to act against any editor who demonstrates poor editorial judgment and that the adverse market performance of a newspaper is a legitimate reason for an editor’s removal.

Incidentally, Independent’s senior management – including Dasnois’ editorial colleagues – had on 14 November 2013 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. In addition, 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 paper. This was out of line with the positioning of the company under its new owners.

Today’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.

On the evening of 5 December 2013, South Africa was informed of the passing of the founding leader of our democracy, President Nelson Mandela.

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 exception to this in the Independent Group – and unique among all major papers here and across the world – was Dasnois’ Cape Times.

For reasons only she will be able to explain, Dasnois refused to recall the first edition of the paper, and instead designed from scratch a four-page wraparound that was ready only for the second edition. The decision delayed the entire production and distribution of the Cape Times, leading to financial losses for the company.

On the morning of 6 December 2013, the Cape Times was the only pre-eminent paper of record in the world not to have the most important South African story of the last decade on its front page.

We maintain that this was an affront to the dignity and legacy of democratic South Africa’s founder, although Dasnois has subsequently claimed this was not her intention. We must also emphasise that every editor in the Independent group – and virtually every other journalist – disagreed with Dasnois’ decision despite her subsequent public posturing.

The company viewed this as gross negligent conduct unbecoming an editor of the premier paper of record for SA’s parliamentary capital, and on the basis of this error of judgment alone, Independent Media chairman Dr Iqbal 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.

Dasnois sued the company in the Labour Court alleging discrimination and unfair dismissal, claiming R4m as payment for 38 months’ salary.

On several occasions over the last two years, Dasnois has attempted to conclude the matter in return for a substantial financial payout. We have consistently rejected this and believed that the matter of Dasnois’ decision on the night of 5 December, 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.

It remains our view that Dasnois’ case was flimsy, had no basis in law or the constitution, driven by quixotic public posturing, and had nothing to do with issues of press freedom.

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. She remains forever the only editor not to lead with the Mandela story on 6 December 2013.

“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”, said Dr Survé.

10 May 2016 12:35

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