Independent Media will lodge a complaint with the press ombudsman over a column by former labour columnist, Terry Bell, published on GroundUp, the media group said this week. Glenda Nevill reports.
The story relayed the experience of Bongani Fani, an “independent contractor” who delivered newspapers in the Lakeside/Muizenberg areas of Cape Town. Fani was allegedly dismissed after serving the Cape Times for over 20 years, Bell reported.
“The latest casualty in the claimed ‘transformative restructuring’ of Independent Newspapers is Bongani Fani, who has delivered Cape Times and Argus titles from Lakeside to Kalk Bay for more than 20 years. A resident of Masiphumelele and father of four, Mr Fani received a ‘Termination of subscription delivery contract’ letter from ‘PG Rhoda, Circulation and Distribution Manager’ last month,” Bell wrote.
But Independent Media, in response to questions from The Media Online, said the story was “problematic” for several reasons as it “obfuscates a number of facts”.
“We are not at liberty to fully disclose the precise reasons for the termination of Mr Fani’s contract, as the matter will be heard at the industry’s Statutory Council. It must be noted, however, that Mr Fani is an independent contractor to Independent Media and not an employee,” group executive for marketing and communication, Lutfia Vayej, said in an emailed response.
“We are able to confirm that the issues are not as straightforward as they purport to be in the story. Complaints of poor service from subscribers in the Lakeside/ Muizenberg area over a period of time, as well as very serious claims from subscribers in relation to Mr Fani’s conduct, are some of the issues that have resulted in the termination of his contract. The decision to terminate the contract was not taken lightly, given the nature of Mr Fani’s personal circumstances,” she said.
Bell contends in his story that Fani, due to the fact that he delivered newspapers seven days a week, throughout the year, is “by any definition employed full time by Independent Newspapers”.
“He began delivering the Cape Times and Argus titles by bicycle in the Lakeside area of the southern suburbs in 1992, also doing ‘relief work’ in Muizenberg and Kalk Bay. In 1997, when the takeover of the Argus Group by the Ireland-based Independent Group was completed, distribution staff were apparently paid off. Mr Fani recalls that he was then told that if he had a car, he could take on deliveries from Lakeside to Kalk Bay. He spent his R8 000 package on a car and continued these rounds until this week [8 February],” he wrote.
But Independent Media says it does have a copy of a contract signed by Fani that “clearly stipulates” the terms of his employment and questions Bell’s motives for “highlighting” the matter.
“It is important that we note that the writer of the article, Mr Bell, is a former columnist for Independent Media. Mr Bell lodged a matter with the industry’s Statutory Council and subsequently the Press Ombudsman’s office against Independent Media in 2014, which he lost,” Vayej said.
“More importantly, we note with utter contempt Mr Bell’s unashamed strategy to toy with the livelihood of Mr Fani in order to advance his personal campaign against Independent Media. The fact that he is seeking support for his campaign by involving various media platforms is mischievous,” she said. She said the company would lodge a complaint against Bell.
Bell said newspaper subscribers in the areas in which Fani worked have phoned in their protests against his dismissal, and “are currently putting together a letter to the Independent management in support of Mr Fani. At the same time, a local lawyer, acting pro bono, has filed papers with the newspaper bargaining council in terms of the Commission for Conciliation Mediation Arbitration”.