Tensions run high at Cape Town media protest

2013-12-17 16:27

A protest against the alleged removal of Alide Dasnois as Cape Times editor was hijacked by groups calling for media transformation.

The Right2Know campaign had formally applied to protest in front of Newspaper House in Cape Town at lunchtime, about a perceived threat to editorial independence.

About 50 media professionals, members of the political party Agang SA, and members of the public, including children, stood quietly in front of the building holding posters declaring “This is not Gov Times – reinstate Alide now”, and “Surve – hands off the Cape Times”.

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

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

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

Surve said in a press release 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%.

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 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 Dasnois’s replacement was due to the fisheries tender story.

About 10 minutes into the protest today, a group calling itself the Movement for Transformation of Media in SA (MTMSA) arrived in front of the building.

They carried 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 SA National Civic Organisation shirts.

Tension ran high as both sides 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.

MTMSA leader Wesley Douglas said 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.

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