Here is a SAFM radio interview Jeremy Maggs did with me on the Llewellyn Kriel-Avusa issue together with Rhodes Journalism lecturer Anthea Garman. I think it encapsulates our views on this saga.
For those who haven’t been following: Llewellyn Kriel was fired by his newspaper, Sowetan, ostensibly for blogging confidential information about the company (Arthur Goldstuck provides commentary and background on the event). The reason it’s attracted attention is that it’s the first case of a company firing an employee over a blog in this country.
My views on it have been that the blogging angle has sensationalised this issue and that this may really just be a standard breach of corporate policy… nothing more. However despite the merits of the issue, the fact that it happened on a blog does makes it interesting, and newsworthy. I suppose, adding to the intrigue is that this all just happened — coincidentally — on a competitor media company’s blog platform, Mail & Guardian Online’s Thought Leader.
I say ‘coincidentally’, but just recently, Justin Hartman who works at Avusa/Johncom, raised the ominous spectre of “corporate sabotage” on his blog. This could be a serious allegation, if it was not such nonsense. (Justin himself rubbishes the claim after raising it).
I was getting bored of this issue, but since Justin’s post, I thought it was worthy of a response. So if there are indeed questions as to why and how the post in question made it on to Thought Leader in the first place, which is closely edited by our online editor Riaan Wolmarans, here are some answers:
It’s important to note that we don’t tell Thought Leader bloggers what to write about. All of the 700 posts that have been published so far are issues chosen by the bloggers themselves. We don’t dictate what they should write about. Of the 700 posts we’ve received so far, we’ve rejected just three because they were defamatory or just poor. We also edit comments on the blogs. We’ve rejected so many of these I’ve lost count. Kriel wrote his posts of his own volition.
Secondly, after this whole furore, we did ask our editor, Riaan, for the reasons why indeed he had approved the controversial post in question which apparently revealed the confidential information. Well to him it seemed all rather innocuous at the time of approving the post. It only began to take on significance after the disciplinary hearing was announced and the action to dismiss Kriel.
Thirdly, our editor is not sensitised to the various issues and run-ins between Avusa and Kriel, and other employees. He cannot get involved in the specifics involving relationships between people and their companies re: what they may or may not do… it’s up to them to police and their responsibility. We are not privy to the various HR contracts our writers may or may not have.
And lastly, Thought Leader is a robust platform for debate. Interestingly enough both the print editor, Ferial Haffajee and the online editor Riaan Wolmarans themselves have been on the receiving end of criticism from Thought Leader contributors. There have also been posts critical and praising various organisations, people and issues. Even the Mail & Guardian has come in for a bit of stick. (Comes with the territory). Incidentally, here is a post quite praiseworthy of Avusa.