Former Cape Times editor Alide Dasnois  speaks to reporters outside the labour court in Loop Street, Cape Town, on Monday.  Picture: THE TIMES
Former Cape Times editor Alide Dasnois. Picture: THE TIMES

THE Press Ombudsman has ordered the Cape Times to apologise to its former editor Alide Dasnois over coverage of the lawsuit between the two parties and the subsequent settlement.

Dasnois had filed a complaint with the Ombudsman in May after the Cape Times had carried an article under the heading, "Independent Media vindicated as Dasnois settles" on its front page, as well as a second article headed, "Failed to have Madiba’s death on front page".

Following a disciplinary hearing, Dasnois was controversially sacked as editor in 2014 by Dr Iqbal Survé, the chairman of the Sekunjalo group, now known as African Equity Empowerment Investments, which owns the Cape Times.

Dasnois then approached the Labour Court, where she claimed R4m from the company as compensation for 38 months’ lost salary.

One of the main reasons put forward for her removal was that the death of former president Nelson Mandela was not the lead article the next day, but was contained within a four-page wrap-around tribute. On the day in question, the main lead in the newspaper was on the findings of the public protector about a tender for R800m, which the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries awarded to the Sekunjalo consortium.

Dasnois and Survé reached a settlement in May — the day on which the case was due to be heard in the Labour Court in Cape Town.

In terms of the settlement agreement on Monday, the newspaper group acknowledged that the decision about how to cover the death of Mandela was the editor’s prerogative and that Dasnois never intended to harm the company in taking this decision.

The company also withdrew accusations that she was racist and agreed to continue its support for media freedom.

However, a few hours after the settlement was reached, Survé issued a statement in which he continued to blame Dasnois, stating that the Cape Times was "the only newspaper in the country" not to carry the death of Madiba on its front page.

He also argued that Dasnois used media freedom as a cover-up for the true motive for her court application — financial gain.

In his ruling published on Monday, Press Ombudsman Johan Retief directed the Cape Times to apologise to Dasnois for "stating as fact in its headline that Independent Newspapers had been vindicated (following the settlement), while that was merely an opinion".

"The front-page headline of the Cape Times is problematic (Independent vindicated as Dasnois settlement reached)… This means that ‘many readers’ would reasonably have concluded that Independent Newspapers has in fact ‘won’ the case and that Dasnois has ‘lost’ it. At the very least, the headline should have indicated that this was an interpretation — as it stands, an interpretation was presented as fact," Retief said in his ruling.

He said that the headline was in breach of section 10.1 of the Code of Ethics and Conduct that states: "Headlines … shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the report … in question", as the article mentioned "vindication" as an opinion, while the headline presented it as fact.

Retief ordered the Cape Times to apologise to Dasnois and to publish the settlement agreement between her the company in full.