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Primedia mulls legal option over departure

Media company Primedia is mulling its legal options over the sudden departure of Gasant Abarder‚ who it claims absconded from his position as news editor at Eye Witness News to become editor of the Cape Times.

According to prominent Cape Town labour lawyer Michael Bagraim, Abarder, shown here when he was executive editor of the Cape Argus, could well be in breach of contract.
Abarder took over from Alide Dasnois‚ who was removed‚ allegedly on the instruction of Independent Newspapers chairman Iqbal Survé this weekend‚ although she was offered an alternative position within the publishing group.

But Dasnois declined that offer and is seeking legal advice. Abarder ignored requests for an interview‚ but is expected to make a statement in today's edition of the Cape Times.

It has been alleged that Dr Survé objected to Dasnois's decision over a front-page article about Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's release of three damning reports‚ one of which concerned the tender for fishing patrol vessels involving one of his other business interests - Sekunjalo Investments.

On Monday was Abarder's first day at the helm of one of the country's oldest English language newspapers.

Eye Witness News editor-in-chief Katy Katopodis said Abarder resigned on November 20. He had agreed to serve out his three-month notice period‚ which was mandatory for all senior staff at Primedia.

Abarder breached contract?

Abarder had been a key member of the group's coverage of the death of former president Nelson Mandela‚ Katopodis said. He had actively participated in all of the planning for reporting on Mandela's state funeral and other related events.

"However‚ there was no indication that he would up and leave as suddenly as he did‚" Katopodis said. "The first notice given to us was an e-mail he (Abarder) sent at 10pm on Friday‚ saying he was leaving ."

Labour lawyer Michael Bagraim said it appeared that Abarder was in breach of contract. "The shortening of a notice period can only be done by agreement of both parties.

"It seems (he ) has exposed himself to a damages claim."

Meanwhile‚ t he South African National Editors Forum and the Cape Town Press Club have called for Dasnois's immediate reinstatement. Both organisations said if she was indeed dismissed because of a story about Sekunjalo 's involvement in the tainted patrol vessels tender‚ then the correct thing to do would have been to approach the Press Ombudsman first.

The Cape Town Press Club said: "If Dasnois was in fact fired for her paper's publishing of a story that painted Sekunjalo in a bad light‚ this is an unabashed attack on journalistic independence. If there was a different reason behind her dismissal‚ we call on Sekunjalo to disclose it."

Dr Survé denied that Dasnois was dismissed because of the story and said he was awaiting her response to the offer to move to an alternative position. Editors had a fudiciary responsibility for their titles and the Cape Times had underperformed‚ he said.

Between 2008 and last year‚ the Cape Times' compounded loss of (newspaper) sales was 28%. Last year‚ sales declined 16.8%.

Cape Times staff have drawn up a petition calling for Dasnois' reinstatement.
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