Llewellyn Kriel
Llewellyn Kriel

The ‘gross misconduct’ of blogging

It is one of the most bizarre, frustrating and terrifying experiences to have to defend yourself for doing precisely what you have been trained and employed to do.

At my rather outlandish and constitutionally questionable disciplinary hearing last week, I found I often had to pinch myself so weird it all was. My fellow employee representing had to do the same.

I am charged with “gross misconduct” for being a journalist. For blogging in this forum. And more specifically the blog “Working on that pig’s ear, baby“.

My most heinous crime was exposing the shortcomings at “the company” and thereby presumably bringing it into “disrepute” — a frighteningly subjective term that resonates of “heretic” or “witch” or “enemy of the state”.

Oh, and there’s an add-on offence of having “divulged internal confidential company information to the public”. The latter was so risible it brought forth gales of derisive laughter when I told my colleagues. Now, any journalist treasures a scoop, but the company secrets I had so shamefully divulged had previously been extensively debated on radio and in august (and satirical) columns long before I “blew the whistle” on them.

But, dear friends, I am not making any of this up. And I take it very, very seriously. My livelihood, future, good name and reputation are at stake.

This is the self-same company (that makes it sound like some ultra-covert government agency protecting us all from the scum of the universe) that claims not only to uphold the Constitution and the freedoms it enshrines for everyone, but also has gone to court to protect the very freedoms I was exercising. This distinction seems to have been brutally trampled on in that most ignoble of corporate sports — vindictive ego-mania — and personal political agendas papered over behind the ugly walls of company dogma.

I’m sure many of you have experienced or imagined how otherworldly it feels to defend the practice of the very freedoms you were employed to uphold. It is akin to a chef being charged with cooking, or a preacher being criminalised for believing in God, or a teacher for teaching. It is incomprehensible. And, quite frankly, unconscionable.

Let this offence against the Constitution be a sobering demonstration to us all that the lessons of Animal Farm and countless others are nothing but so much word-salad to be observed by employers when it suits them and trampled upon as capricious whim may sway them.

And the tragedy is I will probably be convicted of these charges — just as victims of the Inquisition were convicted by the lunacy of those times or, more recently, as Steven Bantu Biko was charged, convicted and executed for the justice and freedoms in which he believed.

This tribunal is a gross offence against our democracy and the “inalienable and self-evident truths” upon which it is founded. The actions of my employer deserve the opprobrium they have evoked from the vast bulk of right-thinking and professional journalists (as opposed to bitter and warped hitmen from a bygone time), the Freedom of Expression Institute and the South African National Editors’ Forum within South Africa and Reporters sans Frontières outside this country.

On Monday the chairman of the disciplinary hearing will pronounce his findings and doubtless sentence will be passed upon me.

Oh, and by the way, my accuser, a senior editor who really should know better, is of the view that subeditors are not journalists at all and should confine themselves to “ensuring grammar is right”. He is the self-same “journalist” who approved for publication a page lead report containing no fewer than 18 major factual, journalistic and linguistic blunders. It almost made the editor-in-chief apoplectic!

I interpret his insult as falling within the same bigoted category as “housewives don’t work” and “it’s the maid’s job to dust under the bed”. There are certain tasks that are just beneath the dignity of senior editors; who incidentally have not the foggiest idea what a blog even is — let alone one of the stature of Thought Leader.

These troglodytes walk among us. And put our beautiful craft in deep, deep trouble.