Business Report Cape Town bureau chief Donwald Pressly has been suspended, allegedly for links with a political party. But his lawyer told The Media Online he had done nothing wrong.
Independent Newspapers announced on Friday that Pressly had been placed on suspension “pending an internal investigation”. The official confirmation came after a report in the Mail & Guardian of rumours that he had been suspended.
The statement from Independent Newspapers’ group executive editor Karima Brown went further than only confirming the suspension — it accused Pressly of having undeclared links to an undisclosed political
party. But Pressly’s lawyer, Michael Bagraim, told The Media Online that Pressly’s only sin was to answer honestly when asked if he was a member of the Democratic Alliance.
“Unfortunately for him [Pressly], he is inherently honest. He said, ‘Yes, I joined the DA,’,” said Bagraim.
“In essence, he was suspended because he became a member of a political party. I’m not so sure they would have done that if he had belonged to another political party.”
Pressly recently authored a book, Owning the Future: Lindiwe Mazibuko and the Changing Face of the DA.
Brown’s statement said, “Under ordinary circumstances, neither Independent Newspapers nor any of its titles would comment publicly about such matters pertaining to its employees,” Brown said in the statement.
“We take our employees’ right to privacy and dignity very seriously, and are keenly aware that labour disputes can often be a source of stress and personal anguish for those involved.
“However, given high public interest in the matter and the fundamental issues of trust that are raised by Mr. Pressly’s conduct, it is necessary to communicate publicly.”
Brown said it had come to Independent Newspaper’s attention that Pressly had tried to get onto the candidate list of a political party, and he did not declare this to the company.
“…Mr. Pressly has recently sought elected political office with a political party, by applying to the said party’s Electoral College to be on its list of candidates for parliament during the 2014 general elections.
“Mr. Pressly did this without informing his editor, and while continuing to write news as well as opinion & analysis on the said political party without declaring his political intentions to our readers.”
If the allegation proved to be true, it would be in breach of Independent Newspapers’ editorial code of conduct and code and ethics, said Brown. “…and a breach of the trust that those readers place in our titles and the writers who put them together.
“This and other unrelated issues are the subject of the internal investigation.
“It is especially incumbent on the media to be vigilant during an election year, when our profession comes under a great amount of pressure from political parties jostling for space and prominence in our platforms. Our readers and audiences expect nothing less of us.”
Brown added the company was in the process of drafting a set of election coverage guidelines for its journalists, “to help them navigate the ethical, legal and operational challenges of elections coverage”.
Bagraim said: “As I stated to you we have now heard officially via a press statement put out by Mr Pressly’s employers that he was suspended because he had joined political party.
“We strongly believe that this is not grounds for a suspension let alone even a talking to.
“We believe that it is every citizen’s right and duty to belong to a political party and to exercise their right to vote. We believe this is exercising very good citizenship.
“There is no claim that this voting for a political party has ever, in Mr Pressly’s case, led to any sort of bias on his part.
“We have not received a notification to attend a disciplinary hearing and nor have we received any ‘charges’, as soon as we receive this we will obviously defend the matter.”