The Citizen Lied – Stories on Jonas, Manuel & Hlaudi had everything to do with Motale’s sacking

By Pinky Khoabane

South Africa's Former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel.
South Africa’s Former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel.

Articles on Deputy Finance Minister, Mcebisi Jonas, former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel and SABC boss Hlaudi Motshoeneg had everything to do with former Citizen editor, Steve Motale’s dismissal from the newspaper. His sacking was orchestrated at the highest level, to the extent that even the Chairman of the Caxton Group, Paul Jenkins, got involved.

This contradicts a statement released by the newspaper upon firing Motale that the “matter was not about the stories published in The Citizen. On the contrary, The Citizen upholds the highest standards of editorial freedom.” In the statement, the paper said Motale had failed to adhere to “agreed-upon editorial processes” and had been dismissed following an internal disciplinary hearing”.

In court papers submitted in the Labour Court this morning, a letter written by The Citizen’s Publisher, Eureka Zandberg, on 10 November 2016 clearly contradicts the statement she released at the time of terminating Motale’s contract. The former editor is in court to seek the reversal of his suspension and subsequent dismissal on the basis that they are unlawful. Judgement was reserved.

The court papers also show that Motale was never subjected to an internal disciplinary hearing headed by an independent chairman in contradiction of an undertaking made to him by Zandberg in a letter on November 1 2016 but also goes against the company’s own disciplinary code.

In correspondence to Motale, the publisher cites the article published on 4 October 2016, “Jonas is a Liar” as the trigger to the events that led to his suspension on 2 November and his dismissal on 28 November 2016.

Timeline of Motale’s dismissal

On 7 October, Zandberg wrote to Motale raising concerns around the story based on a letter from Fana Hlongwane that Jonas had lied about the Gupta family offering him a post. She then instructed Motale to have “all exclusive stories of a sensitive nature regarding high profile individuals are to be referred to our lawyer, Mr Willem de Klerk, for legal clearance, without which no publication shall occur”.

She alleges that Motale gave her assurances that he would do so, but Motale published other stories.

On 20 October 2016, published on its cover an article titled “Now Hawks target Trevor”.

On 21 October 2016, Paul Jenkins, Chairman of Caxton, Jenkins, intervenes and questions the story on Manuel and why a breaking news story on SARS Commissioner Tom Moyane’s nephew was not published. “Eureka, we have a policy of editorial independence, but it does not extend to going over the cliff with a questionable agenda…However, we have a right to intervene where we are concerned about journalistic standards and integrity..” he notes in his email.

On 21 October 2016, Zandberg responds to Jenkins with an assurance that she’d spoken to the editor and an undertaking was made that “there wont be any further unpleasant surprises”.

On 22 October 2016, the Citizens ran a follow-up article on Manuel, headlined: “Manuel Probe: Why the rush?”. The article appeared in the Saturday Citizen for which the paper has another editor.

On 24 October 2016, 7:37AM. Jenkins sent an email to Zandberg in acknowledgement of her 21 October 2016 email but raised concerns on, among others, the source of the story on the Manuel story, specifically that it came from SARS. “I would respectfully suggest that any documents emanating from SARS should be treated with great circumspection. I repeat again that the Sunday Times was at the same time, the perpetrator of very problematic reporting over a sustained period for which it had to apologise..”.

On 24 October 2016, Jenkins sends another email: “Following your assurances from both you and the editor on Friday afternoon, and following on from my email this morning (below), I would like you to please explain the piece in the Saturday Citizen, about Mr Manuel. Given that you said there would be no more surprises, please advise whether you and/or the editor were aware of the imminent publication of a further follow up on Saturday, when you wrote to me on Friday…..”. He raises concerns about the accuracy of the story.

On 27 October 2016, Zandberg responds to the chairman. “I had a follow-up discussion with my editor on 25 October regarding your two most recent emails referring to the Trevor Manuel story. I pointed out that after my meeting with him on Friday, I sent an email, which implied I support and trust my editorial team. My view has changed since I received your last two emails; I cannot but agree with everything that you highlighted. I mentioned to Steve that it affected the trust relationship between him and me negatively…”

On 27 October 2016, Motale responds to Jenkins and explains the context within which the Manuel story was published. In this email he goes on to say he had phoned Manuel, on his (Manuel) instruction and he was very rude to him.

On 27 October 2016, Chairman responds accepting the editor’s explanation but added: “We cannot afford a fall in circulation or a drop in advertising. The Citizen is currently being subsidised by the owner, and this means that we will be pro-active in our oversight of all aspects of the paper…..If and to the extent there is a trust deficit at a management level, and a struggling publication, then the owner cannot be expected to maintain a non-interventionist approach indefinitely.

On 27 October 2016, The Citizen published the article “Hlaudi dishes dirt on Jackson”.

On 1 November 2016, Zandberg writes Motale a letter in which she among others, points out her “considerable misgivings and trust reservations” and offers two options; to either be suspended on full pay pending an investigation into his conduct or consider parting on “a mutually acceptable basis that included immediate termination in return for six-months remuneration. In the same letter, dated 1 November 2016, Motale is assured that his rights to a fair disciplinary hearing would be upheld and an “independent chairperson would be appointed for the purpose and any outcome thereof would be assessed purely and specifically on the evidence which is presented thereat”.

The former editor opted to stay.

On 2 November 2016. Motale receives his suspension letter. In it, Zandberg states. “The reason for your suspension is the breakdown in the trust relationship between you and your employer, particularly owning (sic) to the publication of stories that have not been adequately cleared and for failing to comply with instructions…”. This contradicts the statement by The Citizen when Motale was fired that his dismissal had nothing to do with the stories.

On 10 November 2016, Zandberg writes to Motale. She reneges on her earlier commitment to subject Motale to a proper disciplinary hearing headed by an independent chairperson. Instead, she sends a set of allegations to Motale which she demands he responds to for consideration by the Managing Editor, Piet Greyling. “These submissions…would then be considered and placed before the Managing Director of CTP Limited, Mr Piet Greyling, for his consideration and direction and he will, thereafter be required to determine whether my reservations with regard to your trustworthiness and the capacity aforementioned are well founded or otherwise and thereafter to determine an appropriate outcome with regard to your continued employment with the Citizen”. She gives him a deadline of 18 November to respond.

In his affidavit to the court, Motale has denied the allegations made in the letter and asked the Labour Court not to consider these allegations as he would respond to them in a proper constituted internal disciplinary hearing headed by an independent chairman.

On 17 November 2016, Motale writes to Zandberg.

On 21 November 2016, Zandberg writes to Motale informing him he had failed to respond by 18 November and challenges some claims in Motale’s letter of 17 November 2016. She extends the deadline for Motale’s response to 24 November 2016.

On 24 November 2016, Motale writes to Zandberg alerting her to the fact that he would not be responding to her allegations by way of reply but in a formal disciplinary hearing.

Between 24 November and 27 November, 2016. Several letters are exchanged between the publisher and editor.

On 27 November 2016, Motale is fired.

UnCensored will attempt to upload some of the correspondence soon.

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  1. I just had a dream where the sky was so full of media freedom angels flying and flipping their wings. For reasons I couldn’t explain, their wings were burning and they all started crashing to the ground…it’s still hazy, but the names I remember sound like SANEF, Right to know and so on. Anyway, it’s just a dream.

    1. Dear Khothatso, your dream is really funny! Those angels only have one project now -its called Hlaudi.



  2. Yet we are made to believe that editorial interference only happens at the SABC everywhere else journalistic freedom is sacrosanct. Where are the journalists with the sticky tape on their mouths (so dramatic). “It is freedom of expression that gave us this vocation, do not allow the sun to go down on us ”, they summoned the ancestors of journalism we were told. Well can they please call upon the same on behalf of Mr Motale? Seemed to work for them the last time. We’ll even find a sponsor for the sticky tape, black, heavy duty. Where is consistency based on principle? Maybe they are speaking we are just not hearing them. Where is the outrage from journalism as a whole? Is an editor not empowered to make editorial decisions for the publication? then why get fired for taking those decisions? This is a bigger problem around being given positions which are then systematically stripped of their authority. If he was fired for a drop in circulation during his tenure that would make sense, not decisions to print certain stories. What would be interesting would be to find out how those stories mentioned affected circulation during those weeks if at all.

    1. You make a very good point TheOne. I’ve always been irked by commercial media’s arrogance when it comes to censorship and the pretence that it doesnt happen at their newspapers. I’ve worked for some of them and have had my columns censored, scrapped and I know how the system works. And the journalists who work there know there is massive gate-keeping.

      This issue of circulation I find very interesting. The Citizen itself wouldnt give us such figures for sure but very interesting indeed.



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