Media, Politics

Miyeni affair – the morning after

By Carien Du Plessis 2 August 2011

Avusa’s bosses seem to have taken stock overnight, but instead of firing those who let Eric Miyeni’s controversial column through, they hired more managers. CARIEN DU PLESSIS looks at what happened on the morning after.

Amid a lingering smell of burnt tyres and ruined reputations following Eric Miyeni’s “necklacing” column in Sowetan on Monday, editors and their teams at Media24 and Avusa gathered to regroup and discuss the way forward.

The column contained a fierce personal attack on City Press editor Ferial Haffajee after her paper published investigations into ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema’s finances. Miyeni called her a “black snake in the grass deployed by white capital to sow discord among blacks” and “in the 80s she’d probably have had a burning tyre around her neck”.

In Rosebank, Avusa bosses used the axing of Miyeni on Monday evening as an opportunity to make changes to the top teams at Sowetan and Sunday World (you will recall that latter not so long ago fired columnist Kuli Roberts for racist comments about coloured people in her column).

They said they had stepped in to “strengthen our management team”, announcing in a notice emailed to staff that Sunday Times operations manager Herbert Mabuza had been seconded to the Sowetan and Sunday World “to assist the editors as managing editor”.

Mabuza will be responsible for handling “processes” on both titles and will work with the publisher, Justice Malala, and editors of the two titles “to ensure the smooth running of both operations”. The punchline: “He will also take over all legal matters pertaining to the titles.”

Charles Mogale, former Sunday World editor (actually, he did this job twice) has been brought back to Sowetan as associate editor, and among others he will “assist” acting editor Len Maseko “in strengthening and expanding the opinion and features pages of the newspaper, entertainment and lifestyle sections, oversee special supplements as well as writing his own column”.

Malala said he was not involved in the decision to fire Miyeni, and referred queries to former Sunday Times editor Mondli Makhanya, who did not respond to messages on Tuesday. But he told Talk Radio 702 the paper needed to look at how it happened that Miyeni’s column was published “because when I opened the paper (and saw the column) I was mortified”.

Insiders said the incitement to violence in Miyeni’s column, especially where he implied that the likes of Haffajee should be “necklaced” was unacceptable, since this could be read by some as a literal incitement to violence against journalists. It seemed as if steps would be taken against the responsible editors, but on Tuesday details were still vague.

By Tuesday morning the column had disappeared from the paper’s web site, which, as veteran journalist Max du Preez pointed out on Twitter, allows “no personal attacks, no vulgar, discriminatory, obscene or abusive language”.

In Auckland Park Haffajee assembled her staff to ask them whether they felt comfortable with her decision to sue Miyeni. “You have to take your team with you,” she told DM after the meeting.

Haffajee, who took part in Kaya FM and 702 talk shows on Monday night to debate Miyeni, and whose phone hadn’t stopped ringing following publication of the column, said she hadn’t had time to brief a lawyer yet.

“There are numerous issues to consider,” she said. Among others, some believe journalists shouldn’t sue because this interfered with freedom of speech, but on the other hand Constitutional principles should be upheld.

Meanwhile Miyeni phoned into a talk show on 702 on Tuesday morning with Malema, saying Malema’s call for economic freedom in our lifetime (through nationalisation) is the single most important appeal since Nelson Mandela’s call for the ANC to take up arms 50 years ago. DM



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