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SA National Editors’ Forum fears government has embarked on campaign to intimidate the Press

20 December 2010

SA National Editors’ Forum fears government has embarked on campaign to intimidate the Press

The SA National Editors’ Forum supports the Sunday Independent in its intention to request the Inspector General of Intelligence to investigate alleged harassment and intimidation of a number of its journalists by police officers of the Crime Intelligence Division. They were reported to be seeking information about reporters who, in articles in the paper, detailed allegations of nepotism, corruption, fraud and mismanagement at the division.

After the complaint is laid, Sanef urges the Inspector General to investigate the allegations as speedily as possible and to publish the findings. If the allegations are true, Sanef believes the police abused their powers and resorted to unacceptable behaviour.

Sanef has noted increasing criticism of the press by government officials and, in particular, two claims by President Jacob Zuma for damages of R5-million each lodged against the Sunday Times and the Sunday newspaper Rapport for alleged defamation on grounds that he had been humiliated and degraded and his reputation had been harmed.

The complaint against the Sunday Times arose over a cartoon by Zapiro (Jonathan Shapiro) showing Zuma preparing to rape the Lady Justice – assisted by leaders of the tripartite alliance. The cartoon was a metaphor for how Zuma avoided his day in court to answer corruption charges. The Rapport complaint followed publication of a picture showing Zuma in a friendly pose with Afrikaans singer Steve Hofmeyr with a heading satirically naming him as the Zulu chief Dingaan. Zuma claimed the reference damaged his reputation because Dingaan pretended to be friendly to the Afrikaners entering Natal while secretly plotting to murder them.

The remarkable feature of both claims is that of the allegedly offensive material occurred more than two years ago, raising questions about when Zuma felt he had been harmed.

Zuma has already lodged more than a dozen defamation actions against newspapers since 2006 – among them claims against cartoonist Zapiro over his lampooning of Zuma.

The cartoon in the Sunday Times of September 6 2008 which Zuma has cited was the subject of a complaint to the Human Rights Commission which, however, rejected it, exonerating Zapiro of any misconduct and declaring that the subject was an issue in the public domain which enjoyed high public interest.

The fact that Zuma is suing two major newspapers in addition to the others he has taken action against and the police are alleged to be harassing journalists as well as the ANC proposal to establish a media appeals tribunal capable, according to statements by ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu, of imposing jail sentences on journalists and heavy fines on newspaper companies, suggests that the government has embarked on a campaign to intimidate journalists ahead of next year’s local government elections.

If this is indeed the aim of the ANC, Sanef condemns it and reminds the authorities of their constitutional obligations to protect freedom of expression and to promote the freedom of the media.

Issued by SA National Editors’ Forum (SANEF)