South African reporter sues after e-mail leak

How the Mercury reported the story on its website

A journalist is suing the management of Independent Newspapers South Africa after an e-mail leak warned him he was on a list of people to be "ousted" or considered for dismissal because they were "destructive or useless".

Iqbal Khan, a senior cricket reporter on The Mercury who has been with the company for 22 years, has instructed his attorney to serve writs on three executives for defamation. Others on the list are expected to follow suit.

Peter Davis, the editor of the Sunday Tribune, has gone on indefinite leave following the leak of his correspondence to Graeme King, managing director of Kwazulu Natal division of the group. Both are named in the writ.

In his letter, Davis, who said he was "tired of saving pins and paperclips", suggested more dramatic action – the redundancy of eight people, getting rid of five more and "debating" the future of another four. It would be "fun doing it", he said.

He had compiled the list in consultation with Bruce Colly, the chief of staff, but had not discussed it with fellow editors, he said. Colly is the third name on the writ.

The e-mail leak to Independent Newspapers South Africa staff was headlined "corporate games of an ugly kind" and was signed "a concerned employee".

Khan told Press Gazette: "When I saw the e-mail, I was shaken, very disturbed and emotional. I am still working at the moment but one is not motivated to work hard because I am feeling hurt and very, very angry." Other journalists are to follow Khan’s example.

In addition, four trade unions, including the South African Union of Journalists, have written to King to demand: lthe dismissal of Davis and Colly and others "intent on victimising staff"; lthe disclosure of any other lists in the spirit of Davis’s strategy;

la meeting between unions and the company after "the obvious breakdown in relations with staff".

All 17 named on Davis’s list have consulted their union, which has encouraged recourse through legal action.

Meanwhile, King has told staff he is very concerned about the illegal hacking into the editorial computer system.

The private e-mail, "personal and private views of an editor", had been distributed widely, he said, adding: "I have agreed with the editor that he will go on indefinite leave." King told Press Gazette, through his secretary, that he was regarding the leak totally as an internal matter and not discussing it externally.

 

By Jean Morgan

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