Sanef Media Release: 21 November 2013
Assault on Eyewitness News Journalist
The South African National Editors’ Forum condemns in the strongest terms the assault by a member of President Jacob Zuma’s VIP Protection Unit of Eyewitness News journalist Reinart Toerien outside the home of former president Nelson Mandela in Houghton on the morning of Monday November 18. Toerien was filming the departure of Zuma’s motorcade from the Mandela home after the president had visited the former president. Toerien was standing on the pavement bordering the public road outside the house when one of the security guards leaned out of a window of a security 4X4accompanying Zuma’s car, reached out and slapped Toerien. He also pushed against his video camera forcing Toerien to stumble back. At the same time he shouted to him to “Voetsek’’.
Eyewitness News editor-in-chief Katy Katopodis, who expressed her outrage at the manner in which the security guard was clearly trying to prevent Toerien from picturing the event, said “these strongarm tactics are nothing short of disgraceful and we call for a full investigation and appropriate action to be taken. We are shocked that the President’s security believes that they can act with such impunity and are in some way above the law, ‘’ she added, pointing out that “no threat was posed by the camera or the cameraman and he was standing a respectful distance from the vehicle, alongside a public road.”
Katopodis noted the important democratic principle that “the media has a critical role to play and needs to be allowed to do its job without intimidation. The President’s security detail needs to respect the rights of all its citizens. Bullying tactics won’t work and there need to be consequences for this unlawful action.’’
Sanef supports Katopodis in calling for a full investigation and disciplinary action to be taken and notes that there have been a number of attacks on journalists by officials and members of the public in recent months. Sanef expects civil servants, and especially those charged with accompanying the president on public activities, to respect the rights and duties of the media and treat journalists with respect.
Sanef also approves of the action of Toerien in laying criminal charges against the VIP protection unit member at the Norwood police station. Toerien recorded the incident on video and the vehicle registration number is clearly visible.