We are greatly concerned about axing of Citizen editor – SANEF

Editor's forum will support Steven Motale in any way possible, says newspaper must rethink its decision and hold inquiry

Sanef greatly concerned about axing of Citizen editor; to institute probe

The South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) is greatly concerned following the dismissal of the Editor of The Citizen, Steven Motale, which was announced by the newspaper on Tuesday, November 29, after he was suspended from his duties earlier in the month pending the outcome of an internal disciplinary process. Furthermore, Sanef is shocked to learn that Mr Motale was dismissed without a hearing.

According to an internal memorandum sent to The Citizen's staff and an announcement published in the paper, Mr Motale was accused of failing to "follow agreed-upon editorial procedures and to uphold his editorial duties’’ and that this ``led to an irretrievable breakdown in the relationship of trust and confidence between the editor and the publisher of the newspaper."

Mr Motale claims he has had to contend with improper managerial interference in editorial affairs, including news content and processes to hire journalists.

While Sanef has noted that the publisher of The Citizen, Eureka Zandberg, has denied that the content of stories published in the paper were at issue, we strongly condemn the lack of transparency about the disciplinary process that led to Mr Motale’s axing and we are seeking an urgent meeting with the publishers of The Citizen to express our concerns.

Sanef is also deeply concerned about recent reports of a high turnover of editorial staff following allegations of improper management interference in the editorial conduct of newspapers. Such interference is a threat to the freedom and independence of editors and editorial staff and media values which constitute a vital cornerstone to the country’s democracy.    

Sanef believes that the termination of service should at all times follow laid down labour relations procedures, which include internal processes, failing which the matter can then be taken to the CCMA and the Labour Court. The decision of The Citizen senior management to seemingly abort the internal hearings is worrying and Sanef calls on the company to rethink its decision and hold the inquiry. Failing that, Motale is within his rights to challenge the dismissal in accordance with the laws of this country. Sanef will support our member in any way possible.

Issued by Sam Mkokeli, Media Freedom Committee Chair, SANEF, 30 November 2016