ODAC is leading a campaign to fund litigation support Alide Dasnois, the former editor of the Cape Times, for unfair dismissal. Alide Dasnois has now been dismissed as an employee of Independent Newspapers.
Independent Newspapers have issued a formal response to some of ODAC's statements on the case, which can be read below.
“We believe that the dismissal of Dasnois, who has worked on five of the Group's publications, on three of them as editor, and who was awarded the 2014 Nat Nakasa award for courage and integrity in journalism, has created a chilling effect among the editors and journalists in the Independent Group.” said Alison Tilley, of ODAC.
In December 2013 Alide Dasnois was removed from her post as editor of the Cape Times and offered a position as the editor of a different publication within the Group.
The Group then took steps to terminate her employment relationship with it by instituting a disciplinary hearing which took place in May. She was charged with multiple charges, the most significant being the decision to run a story about a Public Protector report on Sekunjalo – the new owners of the Independent Group and therefore the Cape Times - as a front page lead on the morning after the death of Nelson Mandela. The Public Protector found, among other things, that Sekunjalo had benefited from an R800 million a year government tender which was improperly awarded. She has now formally been dismissed.
Independent Newspapers says on its web site that it publishes more than 30 daily and weekly newspapers in the country’s three major metropolitan areas, claiming aggregate weekly sales of 2.8 million copies and 48% of the total advertising spend in the paid newspaper market (more than twice that of any other newspaper group).
In deciding to dismiss Dasnois the chairperson of the hearing, Independent Newspapers director Takudzwa Hove, made this finding:
“lt has also been demonstrated that the decision not to lead editorially with Mandela's death was most probably influenced by personal feelings against her new employer hence the publication of the Public Protector's report as a lead story on the day. lt's been demonstrated in testimony that there was a deliberate attempt to tarnish Sekunjalo and your actions plus those of other senior members and reporters ...brings to question your integrity and that that of some senior members of the Cape Times newsroom. This demonstrates lack of professional judgement and integrity in that you failed put aside personal feelings ahead of the interests of the readers of the newspapers by not running the most newsworthy story of the day.”
The Cape Times published a special four page "Mandela" edition on that morning, containing news about his death, photographs and tributes. The front page of this Mandela edition was described by Time Magazine to be one of the best "Mandela" front pages in the world.
Dasnois's litigation has initially been supported by attorneys and counsel acting pro bono. Some funding will be provided by the Media Legal Defence Initiative, but more will be needed to successfully litigate the matter.
"We believe this case is important in establishing the rights of editors and journalists to publish what is in the public's right to know. It will be an important test case around the balancing of the rights of media owners, and media workers. If we can find 100 people who can each give the Dasnois fund R1000, we can seek matching and other funds from donors, and have good prospects of running a solid case." said Tilley. “ODAC, a registered non profit, will facilitate collecting funds for the litigation. ODAC works in the areas of access to information and whistle-blowing, and believes that the right to freedom of expression in the workplace is key to transparency and accountability, in government and in business. ”
Dasnois has instituted legal proceedings and will be referring a case to the Labour Court regarding what she will allege is Independent Newspapers' discriminatory conduct and violation of her right to free speech and editorial independence. She has been advised by her lawyers not to talk directly to the media at this stage of proceedings.
What You Can Do
To make a donation to support Dasnois' litigation, you can make a deposit into the following bank account. We can also provide invoices for donations:
Open Democracy Advice Centre
Standard Bank, branch code: 020 909
Acc no: 274 464 160
For more information call Alison Tilley from ODAC, 071 671 8654. We are a registered non-profit organisation.