The Media Mill, 7 Quince Street, Milpark, Johannesburg

SANEF concerned by the detention of a journalist in Paarl

The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) is deeply concerned about the detention of a journalist in Paarl today. He was covering a shooting incident.

We believe it is a journalist’s right to cover crime scenes, within the prescribed regulations. It is essential that the police are properly informed about the role of the media.

SANEF has been pursuing a follow-up meeting with the Commissioner of Police to raise these and other issues (such as the problem of centralizing of police communications). We held a successful meeting last year September with the Commissioner but feel that problems are arising once more. Further, we have taken a decision to meet with all the provincial commissioners to deal with specific issues that are arising in the different provinces.

In terms of the detention today, the editor of the Paarl Post, Lise Beyers, received a call about a shooting incident at Huguenot Station in Paarl during which a taxi driver was gunned down. She sent two of her journalists to cover the story.  On arrival, a few policemen had just arrived, but the scene had not been cordoned off. One of the journalists started taking photographs from behind a fence – there were also members of the public taking photos with their cellphones.

A police officer approached the journalist and ordered him to stop taking photographs (while allowing the bystanders to continue) and to hand over his camera. The journalist explained to him that he was within his rights to take the photos. However, he was bullied into deleting some of the images on his camera, but when he still did not hand over the camera, he was then thrown into the back of a police van.

After receiving a message from the journalist, Beyers managed to secure his release but the police continued to harass and prevent her second journalist from interviewing eyewitnesses.

Beyers argues, “This is severely infringing on the day to day tasks of our journalists as well as interfering with their basic rights. My journalists are well trained and are very well aware of how to deal with crime scenes and not crossing the police cordon. They are being bullied and now even man-handled by the police”. She states that such behaviour by the police is especially detrimental to young journalists. She states that this kind of abuse could intimidate them into avoiding stories, linked to the covering of crime scenes.

Beyers states that this harassment has become a trend. She notes a number of occasions last year where journalists were stopped from taking photos at motor vehicle accident scenes.  Also, on Saturday 25 January, a journalist was prevented from doing her work, also by a Paarl police officer. She attended a crime scene where a motorist had been carjacked, robbed and severely injured. She was trying to photograph the vehicle from a distance – there was also yet no police cordon – when she was stopped by a police officer. Beyers notes that her constant complaints to the Communications Officer at the Paarl Police station have fallen on deaf ears.

Note for Editors: The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) is a non-profit organisation whose members are editors, senior journalists and journalism trainers from all areas of the South African media. We are committed to championing South Africa’s hard-won freedom of expression and promoting quality, ethics and diversity in the South African media. We promote excellence in journalism through fighting for media freedom, writing policy submissions, research, education and training programmes.

For more information contact

  • Katy Katopodis – Acting SANEF Chairperson, (082) 805-7022
  • Mary Papayya – Acting SANEF Media Freedom Chair (082) 379-4957
  • Judy Sandison – SANEF KZN Convenor 0825713334
  • Sbu Ngalwa – SANEF Eastern Cape Convenor (073) 404-1415
  • Janet Heard – SANEF Western Cape SANEF Convenor, 0780419528
  • Hopewell Radebe – SANEF Acting Gauteng Regional Convenor 083 582 1734
  • Kate Skinner – SANEF Executive Director – 082 926 6404