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Criminal charges against the Sunday Times
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Criminal charges against the Sunday Times

SANEF MEDIA RELEASE – THURSDAY DECEMBER 5 2013

The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) strongly condemns the decision by Sekunjalo Investments to lay criminal charges against the Sunday Times, its editor Phylicia Oppelt and journalist Bobby Jordan.

This comes after Jordan wrote a story for the Sunday Times, reporting on the Public Protector’s provisional report involving a tender in the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries. The report reflects negatively on Sekunjalo.

Sekunjalo Investments is an associate company of Sekunjalo Holdings, a private company that led the consortium that bought Independent Newspapers.

Sanef would like to urge Sekunjalo and its executive chairperson, Dr Iqbal Survé, to reconsider its decision to lay criminal charges. We are concerned that the laying of criminal charges against journalists for doing their work might send the wrong message to employees of titles in the Independent Group. Sekunjalo has other complaint mechanisms available to them, including lodging a complaint against the Sunday Times with the Press Ombudsman.

We are alarmed by the fact that Sekunjalo, by laying this charge, is seriously undermining the strong opposition that Sanef has raised against the Protection of State Information Bill. Sekunjalo is also contradicting the Declaration of Table Mountain which condemns the criminalising of reporting. Previous editors of the Independent Group have supported the declaration though their membership of Sanef which adopted the declaration some years ago.

It is unfortunate that while the industry is fighting against the potential criminalisation of information dissemination, as provided for in the Protection of State Information Bill, we are faced with this kind of action from a company that should be our new ally in the ongoing attempts to maintain a free press in our country.

Criminalising leaks must never be tolerated in an open, democratic society, especially when whistle-blowing is the only or alternative way of exposing maladministration and corruption. Ironically, some of the titles in the Independent Group are currently facing harassment by national police commissioner Riah Phiyega, who is also using the criminal system to threaten journalists for listening to tapes that implicate her for allegedly defeating the ends of justice. If we as the media industry allow criminalisation of leaks, then Phiyega would feel justified to threaten to arrest our journalists.

There is a real risk that the legal action by Sekunjalo could harm investigative journalism and freedom of speech, thus reducing journalists to disseminators of so-called authorised information.

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