Decoding the Business Day Lamberti editorial (we tried)
by Herman Manson (@marklives) It continues to be a terrible week for South Africa’s media. Having kicked sub-editors and fact-checkers to the kerb, the South African news media are pushing out badly constructed and error-filled copy which fans the flames of social media and leads to a perception that SA journalists lack credibility (and yes, some do).
Business Day editorial
The latest to cause outrage is Business Day, which has just run an editorial headlined “EDITORIAL: Don’t fire the messenger.” The extract reads: “It is a pity. Lamberti has displayed outstanding patriotism and commitment.”
Business Day: EDITORIAL: Don’t fire the messenger
Politicsweb: Adile Chowan vs Mark Lamberti & Co.: The High Court judgment
Having read (only) the headline and the excerpt, it’s reasonable to assume the takeout for most readers would be that Business Day is saying:
- Mark Lamberti is a patriot
- His departure as CEO of Imperial was unfortunate
- His message may have been uncomfortable, but he didn’t deserve what came his way.
Lamberti recently resigned his leadership positions at Eskom, Business Leadership South Africa and finally, yesterday (Wednesday 18 April 2018), Imperial after a court ruled against him and Imperial in a race and gender-discrimination case brought against him by Adila Chowan after she had filed, according to the court’s judgement, an internal grievance “of racial discrimination and unfair treatment against Mr Lamberti”.
Following Chowan’s raising her grievance of racial discrimination and unfair treatment by Lamberti and Janse van Rensburg, a law firm was appointed to conduct the grievance investigation. A report on the investigation, which neither contained any findings nor recommendations, was presented to a meeting of Imperial’s non-executive directors, who sided with Lamberti. Chowan was then subjected to a disciplinary hearing, suspended, and ultimately dismissed in 2015.
Yes and no
Does our takeout from the Business Day headline and extract correlate with the editorial? Yes and no.
Business Day argues that Lamberti offers a much-needed executive skill set in corporate SA and that, for many years, he contributed to the success of a company that employs thousands of South Africans. “Lamberti, of all the top CEOs in the country, has displayed outstanding patriotism and commitment to the country.”
But it’s not completely clear cut. The editorial further argues, if in a rather convoluted way, that Lamberti showed arrogance and poor judgment. Writes the paper: “But if firing Chowan for making such a complaint (an internal inquiry found her complaint to be without foundation) was the only problem, we could charge Lamberti and those at Imperial who were also party to the decision (they were apparently advised to do this by lawyers!) with arrogance and poor judgment.”
It also acknowledges that “Lamberti was accused of racism, his accuser was fired and now the label of racist is stuck fast to his name. He will pay a very heavy price for the errors made in this debacle.” In the same breath, it seems to backtrack by arguing that “[i]n Lamberti’s case, the comments he made in which he referred to Chowan at some point as ‘an affirmative action’ employee were not in themselves racist.”
If you’re feeling terribly confused, we’re with you. The editorial dithers on whether the comments made by Lamberti are racist or not.
It continues down this route when it makes a vague argument about Lamberti’s “notionally racist statement” in writing “[s]o although Lamberti was not found to have been overtly racist — indeed his notionally racist statement was that the company would relish an affirmative action employee — Chowan was found, with justification, to have genuinely been discriminated against.”
As per the court record, Lamerti had referred to Chowan as “a female, employment equity, technically competent, they would like to keep her but if she wants to go she must go, others have left this management and done better outside the company, and that she required three to four years to develop her leadership skills.”
Business Day also suggests that the court finding and Lamberti’s resignation suggest no disgruntled employees may be fired in South Africa (a bit dramatic, especially for the newspaper): “In what workplace and under what set of circumstances would it be acceptable to fire an employee for making a complaint against the boss? In 2018, the answers to that must certainly be: not in any workplace and never.”
‘Good old days’
It nearly feels as if the paper is lamenting the ‘good old days’: “Now due to both the law and social norms, CEOs like everyone else are compelled to behave fairly and to respect all employees, no matter how big or small in the operation that person might be.”
In its conclusion, the editorial states: “The smallest remark or gesture, whether intentionally racist or just insensitive and tone deaf to the mood of one’s colleagues, can go nuclear in the age of e-mail, social media and instant messaging, which can at times resemble a kind of mass hysteria. The best way to deal with it is to recognise the mistake immediately and apologise. The stupidest way to deal with it is to fire the messenger, even if that is the advice of your legal team.”
While some has taken this to refer to Lamberti, and his departure from Imperial, it seems instead to be referencing Chowan, as she was the only person to be fired in this saga; Lamberti quit. The argument, it would seem, is don’t fire employees you’ve messed up with, Mr Executive. Just apologise.
In conclusion, the headline and extract, coupled with a photo of Lamberti when shared on social media, suggests a defense of Lamberti’s actions, and of taking a stance in opposition to his departure from Imperial. As this analysis have shown, this is partly true, and that the paper seems to be suggesting that Lamberti was a good leader with high-value skills, and that his retirement is a loss for our country. But the messenger referred to in the headline seems to be Chowan, and not Lamberti, so the editorial is arguably a call for SA business executives to take notice of what employees are trying to say about their organisational culture, not to get rid of them.
Unfortunately, the core message, as per the headline and conclusion, has been heavily diluted by the paper’s indecision on whether it’s mounting a defense of Lamberti, or of employees victimised by corporate execs.
It’s important to note that an editorial essentially expresses an editor’s point of view (or opinion). I, for one, subscribe to Business Day’s right to publish controversial and diverse views and opinions.
Social media reaction
Are y'all fucking insane???
— Maggs Naidu (@maggsnaidu) April 19, 2018
Can i unread this nonsense- what lot of hogwash is this. Not only is the writer oblivious and insensitive to the racial bigotry suffered by the victim but the editor at @BDliveSA saw it fit to publish this nonsense. REALLY?
— Ruby Moloisane (@diphetogo1) April 19, 2018
Business Day creating its own reality – it's naive; and dangerous: "When your heart is open to patriotism, there will be no room for prejudice"
— Menzi Kulati (@menzikulati) April 19, 2018
Come on man WTF are you trying to say. This just strengthens the narrative of who owns the hand that signs off articles for publication. The court was very clear in its judgment
— VIC (@victor07397158) April 19, 2018
You wana read an article about how there’s no point to our profession anymore ?
— staci white (@Staci_white18) April 19, 2018
It’s the editorial that’s tone deaf, not the way it describes the situation in question. Describing Lamberti as “unfairly targeted person”! Really? Yes "we live in a fragile society, polarised society" borne out exactly by the whole way Chowan was treated. Very disappointing ed
— Delphine Govender (@Delphine_DG) April 19, 2018
The old boys network will never acknowledge wrongdoing
— Kriskrossworld (@kriskrossworld1) April 19, 2018
Dear people managers, be warned, watch every single word you say as your subordinates will be looking to use this as a precedent to get ahead. Only to find that their subordinates will be doing the same. Good luck. This is the era of manufactured outrage and emotional fragility.
— Real Nuz (@Real_Nuz) April 19, 2018
We're still living in a man's world, until a Chowan takes them on and win all arguments.
Problem seeing a Lamberti, Momberg, Sparrow as victims whilst the harm to society continues.
— Linda Roodt (@5942017jojo) April 19, 2018
… the anonymous nature of the editorial is really unacceptable from (arguably) the best newspaper in the country! If you believe what you say; then sign your name to it.
— Vimal Ranchhod (@VimalRanchhod) April 19, 2018
I'm going to share this valiant defence of racism so that as many people as possible know that racism in our country is alive and well. I'm only glad that I'm not a @BDliveSA subscriber.
— M🇿🇦 (@MashotoPhala) April 19, 2018
I read the article but I’m still confused who is the messenger here? Adila or Lamberti?
— Dosini🇿🇦 (@MzontsunduFaku) April 19, 2018
Really, a racist is patriotic and love “the country”? Who actually wrote this? Because a racist seeks comfort and is in turn comforted by other racists. To think I subscribed to this @BDliveSA makes me sick.
— #RIPMamaWinnie (@Mesh_Lets) April 19, 2018
Just so tip toeing and or eggshell walking around the real issues. Workplace volatile and ridden with structural racism on all levels. Think about the lower income who dare not make a sound about any of this… article vague and evasive
— Deidre Constance (@ConstanceDeidre) April 19, 2018
Lamberti is the victim here because of his supposed patriotism? What on earth is this rubbish?
— Good Hair (@GoodHair99) April 19, 2018
Is this supposed to be an attempt at satire?
— TwıtterAnalystMaster (@shailendrasham) April 19, 2018
Herman Manson (@marklives) is the founder and editor of MarkLives.com.
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