South Africa’s Citizen newspaper fires photographer after tweeting cloned photo

South African daily tabloid the Citizen on Thursday fired its photographer after he blew the lid on a photoshopped image published in the newspaper, with critics accusing the paper of unethical standards and compromising journalistic integrity.

The Mail and Guardian says the whistleblower Johann “Slang” Hattingh was fired after he revealed the Citizen had doctored an image on its front page.

It is claimed that the photographer tweeted about the incident shortly after the paper was published and a furious discussion about the ethics of the paper’s actions broke out over social media.

The images were supposed to show bodies of two South Africans killed in a suicide bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan, but when the image spread on twitter it was pointed out that the picture belonged to AFP and was from 2002, bringing the paper under fire.

The Citizen initially defended itself by saying the photos were blurred for use publically, then later said they were cloned.

The disciplinary hearing found the the photographer guilty for bringing the company name into disrepute by making defamatory comments on Twitter on or around September 19 and irretrievably damaging the trust relationship between employer and employee.

The paper’s disciplinary committee wrote: “Although it is not the policy of The Citizen to comment on internal disciplinary matters, we confirm, after the matter was raised on social media, that a staff member was dismissed on September 27.”

In their defence, the Citizen quoted South African IT lawyer Warren Weertman: “If you are in an employer, employee relationship, not just Facebook but blogging, you have to remember to always act in the employer’s best interest, that is a common law compulsion”.

The Citizen through its editor Martin Williams promise this to be commonplace.

“An employer, company or institution has a responsibility to take action when it and its employees are defamed and false information about them is spread,” said Citizen editor Martin Williams. “In the matter of the “cloned” photograph published on September 19, the company has dealt individually with all people who had a role in the serious error.”

The editor has publicly apologised and is satisfied that such a mistake will not recur. However, Hattingh denied starting the debate or bringing the firm into disrepute. At the Tuesday hearing he argued that editorial staff are responsible for checking the content of the paper and sources, rather than him. He told the M&G: “I’ll take it up further with the CCMA [Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration].”

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