South Africa: The Media, Mandela's Legacy and Transformation

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interview

I think that the optics are important when it comes boardroom transformation. If we have a fairly well transformed newsroom, but the management decisions are being taken by predominantly white boards then inevitably it's going to create problems for the credibility - for the legitimacy of that media organisation.

Let's talk a little bit about media ownership and its implications for editorial content. Just this weekend we heard that Cape Times editor Alide Dasnois has been removed from her post by her newspaper's groups controlling shareholder Sekunjalo after she published an article alleging that a Sekunjalo subsidiary had fraudulently acquired a government contract.

Reports say that Dasnois was informed by Sekunjalo consortium executive chairperson Iqbal Survé of her removal on Friday.

Can you comment on this specific case and the issue of ownership and editorial content more generally in relation to the media? And I mean when you answer this question, I don't think the issue of the SABC is off the table as well in terms of who controls our public broadcaster - so if you would engage with that as well.

Well I think specifically in relation to the Cape Times case, we obviously don't know what precipitated the removal of Alide Dasnois. It looks suspicious though. You know it's difficult not to arrive at the conclusion that there was management interference in relation to a number of articles that were, I think, extremely critical of Sekunjalo, but we obviously can't state that conclusively yet.

I would hope that if Sekunjalo had issues with the Cape Times' reporting on the alleged corruption in the tender then I think that it would have been appropriate for Sekunjalo to take the matter to the press Ombudsman and to lay a complaint there.

But to start getting heavy handed and to send lawyers - a lawyers letter to the editorial staff and to remove the editor in these very dubious, I think, conditions - I think certainly does create the impression that there's been undue management pressure on editorial.

But I think that there was always a danger when it came to a transformation of the press because I think it's become fairly evident that the press on a number of levels is insufficiently transformed.

Newsrooms are certainly very transformed, but when it comes to management structures and ownership there's insufficient transformation that's taken place on those levels. And I think that the press really has been damned -- would have been damned if it didn't transform, but it potentially could be damned if it did transform.

And what I mean by that is if it didn't transform then inevitably that would be used in order to continue to delegitimize the press and I think that the ANC has done that very successfully.

They've pointed fingers at the press and said that because of the lack of transformation in the press, therefore they are pursuing an anti ANC agenda, they're out of touch with the majority opinion, and they are very market fundamentalist and neoliberal in their outlook.

So, those kinds of arguments would continue to be made about the press.

But if they didn't transform then I think inevitably their credibility would have been damaged. But if they did transform, the possibility was always there that empowerment groups that were linked to the ruling party or even a faction of the ruling party could take control of chunks of the press and I think this is why many people I think have been concerned about the Sekunjalo buy over of Independent Newspapers.

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InFocus

S. Africa: Senior Editor Departs Independent Newspapers

Demonstrators protest the dismissal of Alide Dasnois, former editor of the Cape Times.

The departure of Chris Whitfield from Independent Newspapers in the wake of Alide Dasnois's dismissal as the editor of the Cape Times has been blamed on editorial interference. Read more »