Questions have been raised over the attendance, by two senior Independent Newspapers group editors, of the recent ANC 103rd anniversary rally in Cape Town in ANC branded clothing. In an article in the Daily Maverick the journalist Mariann Thamm stated that Group Executive Editor, Karima Brown and Group Editor of Opinion and Analysis, Vukani Mde, had posted pictures of themselves on social media "decked out in ANC regalia attending the party's 103rd celebrations in Cape Town" (see picture here).
Thamm noted that since Iqbal Survé's acquisition of the group - and the installation of Brown and Mde in their positions - many veteran journalists have been culled from the Cape Times in particular. They include Cape Times editor Alide Dasnois, Tony Weaver, Janet Heard and the veteran columnist John Scott who was recently "unceremoniously dumped by the paper."
"In April last year" Thamm wrote, "Business Report journalist Donwald Pressly was fired for seeking political office with the Democratic Alliance, a move which ... Karima Brown, described as ‘a breach of Independent Newspapers' editorial code of conduct and code of ethics and a breach of the trust that those readers place in our titles and the writers who put them together'."
Thamm asked whether it would be "acceptable to Brown and Mde" if one of their subordinates attended "a DA federal congress or birthday party or an EFF event, posted photographs of themselves decked out in those party's colours?" And, furthermore suggested, that Brown and Mde publicly disclose to their newspapers' readership "their apparently unwavering political allegiances."
The article was met with a furious reaction by Brown and Mde on social media. In response to a posting by Thamm of a link to her article on her Facebook page Brown commented: "I am wearing a hat! WTF? My political orientation is hardly a secret and my reporting on the ANC has never been anything but factual. Am I a card carrying member of the ANC no. Was I ever. Yes when it was an underground organisation and before I was a journalist. Am i going to apologise for being Left and a socialist.. never."
On the substance of Thamm's piece she made two points:
"1. If any Independent journo of whatever level of seniority went to a DA/EFF/ANC event not to report on it but as a supporter of that party and posted pics of themselves, they would have NO problem with me or anyone in the group. Personally I don't want journalists who are "objective" automatons. And I have no problem with people who believe differently to me as long as they are capable of thinking through their own biases, as I myself strive to
2. It is highly disingenuous to drag out the Donwald Pressly example. He was fired for the exact opposite behaviour: NOT being a supporter of the DA (anyone could have told you he was long ago), but seeking public office with that party and keeping the fact from his editor, while writing about that party every day in BR."
In a post on a different Facebook thread Mde commented: "So to paraphrase, because Marianne Thamm has an inbuilt, personal "distrust of all politicians" that comforts her, it follows that I, Vukani Mde, should have no political allegiance. In fact it's been elevated to an ethical obligation, for which the punishment for breaching is to be 'exposed' on the Internet. I get it now. Carry on".
He also stated that the alternative for Donwald Pressley was not to quit his job when he applied to be a DA candidate, but rather "Just declare to the editor and take leave while you campaign for office. If you win you quit. If not you come back, and everyone knows where you stand politically. What's the difficulty in that. It requires no special bravery whatsoever."
In a subsequent comment Mde added:
"Here's the big irony: anyone who's willing to let my work speak for itself and not some t-shirt that actually belongs to my wife (how it came to be on me is a funny story for another day, children) would know I probably have less sympathy for the ANC (in the main) than Marianne Thamm claims to have. And yet, on the basis of a t-shirt, I wake up to an ill-informed 1000 word diatribe about my supposed "unwavering political allegiance" to the ANC. Man, this country's so funny sometimes..."
The Independent Newspaper columnist Eusebius McKaiser subsequently posted an article length piece on Facebook giving his take on the controversy. He stated that he would have advised Brown and Mde, whom he described as friends of his, not to wear party political apparel.
"I would NOT have told Vukani or Karima to NOT wear the branded gear as a matter of principle. My reason would have been something else. It would purely and solely have been advice about what is *prudent*, given how many of their media peers in the two other major print companies in SA are simply waiting to throw mud at them."
McKaiser suggested that there was little wrong with journalists having political allegiances. He also defended the dropping of Scott's column:
"Marianne says at one point that some guy who had a column for about 40 years was ‘unceremoniously dumped.' My goodness, who has a column in the same paper for 40 years? That's embarrassing if true! Why would I buy a newspaper, invest money and NOT make changes, starting with, I don't know, letting go of a columnist-for-life? If Kevin Ritchie hasn't fired me after 40 years, PLEASE protest!!"
Scott, a former editor of the Cape Times, had apparently been told in a two line email that his PS column was being terminated with immediate effect.
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