Citizen journalist axed after tweets

2012-09-27 18:59
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Cape Town - The Citizen newspaper on Thursday dismissed a staff member for defamatory comments made on Twitter in the aftermath of the furore over the newspaper's use of a "cloned" photograph of a bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan.

In a statement, the newspaper said although it is not its policy to comment on internal disciplinary matters, it confirmed that a staff member was dismissed on Thursday.

The Mail&Guardian (M&G) reported that the staff member was photographer Johann "Slang" Hattingh, who had drawn attention to the fact that the newspaper had doctored the image on its front page.

The paper had come under fire after it emerged that the bodies of two South Africans killed in a suicide bombing in Kabul, had been "cloned" (digitally removed) from a picture sourced from the Agence France-Presse, the M&G said.

According to the M&G, Hattingh had tweeted about the incident shortly after the paper was published and a furious discussion about the ethics of the Citizen's actions broke out over social media.

But the Citizen said that Hattingh's dismissal wasn't related to the furore surrounding the photograph.

"In the matter of the cloned photograph published on 19 September, the company has dealt individually with all people who had a role in the serious error.

"The editor has publicly apologised and is satisfied that such a mistake will not recur."

It said that Hattingh was found guilty of two charges, after a disciplinary hearing under an independent, external chairperson.

He was found to have "brought the company name into disrepute by making defamatory comments on Twitter" and "irretrievably damaging the trust relationship between employer and employee"

"An employer, company or institution has a responsibility to take action when it and its employees are defamed and false information about them is spread."

Hattingh told the M&G he had argued that it was not him, but the senior editorial staff who had failed to check the page before it went to print, that had brought the company into disrepute.

Of his dismissal, he said "I'm quite disappointed with the outcome but obviously I'll take it up further with the CCMA."

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