The SA National Editors’ Forum is shocked at the arrest of three press photographers and the manhandling of one of them yesterday by police at Musina, Limpopo, and their being detained for 45 minutes, preventing them from carrying out their duties to take pictures of 11 people accused of being members of a rhino poaching syndicate.
The photographers, one from the national news agency Sapa, another from Beeld and the third an SABC TV cameraman were taking pictures of the suspects as they were being loaded into a police van when, Sapa’s Werner Beukes said, they were told “we were not allowed to take pictures”.
“They took us to the station commander’s office where he told us we were not allowed to take pictures. They were pretty rough with one of the photographers; they literally dragged him in,’’ said Beukes.
He, Beeld photographer Herman Verwey and SABC cameraman Lewellyn Carstens were held for 45 minutes by the station commander, who did not identify himself, but who “told us we were trespassing, even though we were standing outside the premises of the police station when we took the pictures. He kept on telling us that it was his police station and he was the only one who could decide who was allowed to take photos there.’‘
The men were later released after interventions by a prosecutor from the National Prosecuting Authority and acting police Hawks spokesman Colonel Vishnu Naidoo.
Sanef condemns the police conduct, especially as it follows numerous serious complaints to national Police Commissioner Bheki Cele about such intolerable if not illegal treatment being meted out by the police to photographers and journalists for no reason. An aggravating factor is that this bullying conduct took place only days after a Sunday Times journalist was arrested and detained for two days only to have his case thrown out of court.
When such conduct is viewed alongside the passage of a Protection of Information Bill where the authorities are given excessive powers to prevent the publication of information together with ANC plans for a statutory media appeals tribunal with proposals for the imprisonment of journalists it is difficult to avoid concluding that there is a determined authoritarian plan by the government and its officials to severely restrict the publication of news and information and a heavy clamp down on the public’s right to know.
Sanef calls for an apology from the police to the photographers and the firm assurance that police will be ordered to cease these attacks on journalists and that those who act in this way will be severely punished.