Former Cape Times editor, Alide Dasnois, is considering further legal action against Independent Media.
The decision comes in the wake of an out of court settlement instigated by the newspaper group, owned by Dr Iqbal Survé and a consortium of investors, on the eve of a Labour Court case launched by Dasnois after she was summarily fired in December 2013. The reasons given at the time, were her decision to feature the death of Nelson Mandela in a four-page wraparound and also, according to Survé, the poor performance of the title.
Independent Media’s legal team approached Dasnois’ lawyers on Friday afternoon with a settlement offer ahead of the start of the court case, scheduled to be heard on Monday.
Dasnois told The Media Online she was “surprised” by the offer and considered all her options, including not accepting it, “very carefully”. Ultimately she settled, and her supporters claimed victory for editorial independence. But not long afterwards, Independent Media issued a statement, also posting it on a Facebook Group known as SA Journos of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, known for its robust views on Independent Media post its sale by its former Irish owners to Survé.
In the statement, Survé made incendiary remarks about Dasnois, her editorship of the newspaper and the events that took place in the two years after she was sacked.
Asked for her reaction to the media statement, Dasnois said she was “surprised” by its content. “Yes, I was surprised at the content and the tone of the press release. I am taking legal advice on that,” she told The Media Online.
Survé claimed in the release Dasnois had “attempted to conclude the matter in return for a substantial financial payout” (Dasnois sued the company for R4m) and that Independent Media “consistently rejected this and believed that the matter of Dasnois’ decision on the night of December 5, had to be ventilated in open court”.
“That is rubbish,” said Dasnois. “From the start we made it clear that our objective was to establish a precedent on editorial independence. A financial payout was never the issue. And if Iqbal Survé was so keen to ventilate all this in open court, it is hard to see why Independent approached us with a settlement.”
After the Labour Court announced the settlement, Dasnois and Independent Media claimed to be satisfied.
“I am satisfied that Independent withdrew all accusations of racism against me. I’m also satisfied that Independent conceded that management’s reaction to the coverage of Nelson Mandela’s death in the Cape Times of 6 December was a matter of a difference of opinion,” she explained.
“The most important concession, though, is the recognition of editorial independence: Independent acknowledged that in making my decisions that night I was exercising my prerogative as an editor. We went to court in order to establish this point, and we succeeded,” Dasnois said.
The settlement was supposed to remain confidential, so the media release repeating all the allegations against Dasnois would appear to go against the spirit of such settlements.
In its statement, Independent said it 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.”
Which begs the question, why on earth settle in this case? “Exactly,” Dasnois responded.
Survé then went on to say, “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.”
Dasnois said she stands by her decision on the Cape Times’ coverage of Mandela’s death. (TIME magazine called it one of the best examples of coverage of the icon’s death.)
“Let me say it again: my decision to cover the passing of Nelson Mandela in the way that we did was based on my conviction that it was the most respectful and appropriate way to do so,” she said.
“In the time available we could not have remade the whole newspaper. At best we could have changed the first few pages. It seemed to me – and I am still of this opinion – that a far better option was to create a NEW newspaper, entirely devoted to the passing of Madiba, with NO advertisements in it, with a new front page, and three other pages containing news, tributes, our editorial, a graphic and photographs. The new front page contained all the usual elements of a front page: the masthead, the date, the barcode. It is nonsense to suggest, as Surve keeps doing, this was not the new front page of the Cape Times,” she said.
Independent still disagrees. “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 group said in its statement.
“I would add that an important part of the legacy of Nelson Mandela, to which we should all be attached, is freedom of the press,” Dasnois said in response.
It’s been a tough time for Dasnois. What has been the most difficult aspect of the last two years?
“Being fired overnight from my position as editor, in the middle of the biggest story of the century; being accused of racism and of disrespect for Nelson Mandela; being attacked over weeks and months in Iqbal Survé ‘s newspapers; watching other editors and journalists being hounded out of their newspapers because they had independent minds; seeing these once-respected newspapers reduced to mouthpieces for the owner: it has all been very difficult.”