The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) condemns the increasing number of incidents involving members of the Cape Town Metro and SAPS who prevent journalists from reporting on court proceedings.
The latest court incident involves the media being prevented from entering the courts in Cape Town on Tuesday, 7 April 2020, to report on the case of 55-year-old Stephen Birch of Parow who was arrested for posting a disinformation video about contaminated COVID-19 test kits.
Birch has been released on a warning to appear in court for a second time for contravening regulation 11 (5) of the National Disaster Management Act.
Police did not allow the media to enter the court to cover his appearance on Tuesday. Police physically removed journalists who were there to cover the proceedings – and did not give reasons for ejecting them.
Attempts to obtain a ruling from the court on whether the media were allowed to attend the session were unsuccessful. It is our understanding that neither the justice department nor the magistrate gave a directive to bar the journalists.
At the same time, SANEF has learnt that during the removal of refugees and asylum seekers on the evening of Tuesday 7 April in Cape Town, a metro police officer prevented photographer Guy Oliver, who was documenting the incident, from doing his job. They pushed him and demanded he operates from a distance. This was without any provocation. Furthermore, some of the metro officers refused to heed his request to ensure physical distancing between the refugees, during their removal. Oliver has laid a complaint with the City of Cape Town.
SANEF is also concerned to hear that several journalists have been denied access to the Strandfontein Sports Centre where the City of Cape Town has taken homeless people. It is even more worrisome that media visits to the area will not be allowed without seeking prior permission, thereby denying the community in the centre access to the media. Visits at prearranged times make it possible for the City to stage-manage the event, making it difficult for the media to hold to account and monitor the City officials and those responsible for the upkeep of this vulnerable community.
SANEF notes that this is the second complaint against Cape Town metro police officers, following an incident involving Newzroom Afrika’s, Athi Mthongana while covering the removal of refugees living around the Central Methodist Mission on Greenmarket Square last month. At the time, SANEF requested a meeting with the head of law enforcement, Richard Bosman, which has not yet taken place, but which will be pursued urgently amid the latest incident involving Oliver.
SANEF wishes to state that the barring of the media in covering all these cases is completely contrary to the Covid-19 regulations that specifically allow journalists to operate as essential services.
In terms of the courts, SANEF notes that journalists in Durban were allowed to attend the first case of a man arrested under the same disinformation contravention for spreading lies about his ex-girlfriend on Covid-19, late in March. This heavy-handed approach by members of the SAPS in our courts is unacceptable and has unfortunately increased in the past 12 months. While our meeting with the SAPS leadership to discuss these and other transgressions is on hold until the end of the lockdown, SANEF calls on all journalists to be vigilant and report similar incidents to the SANEF office.
Journalists have a constitutional mandate to inform the public – now more than ever – and any form of censorship by overzealous officers should not be tolerated.
We again impress upon the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola to inform his counterparts in the security cluster that all state organs need to protect journalists from any form of harassment when doing their work.
The prevention of journalists from covering court proceedings – and other issues such as the removals of refugees – infringes on the right of freedom of expression, enshrined in Section 16 of our Constitution. Section 16 states that everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes “freedom of the press and other media” and “freedom to receive or impart information or ideas”. The protection of a free press, freedom of speech and the free flow of information are cornerstones of our Constitution and must be observed by SAPS members – and the metro police.
Note to 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 media. We promote excellence in journalism through fighting for media freedom, writing policy submissions, research and education and training programmes. SANEF is not a union.
For more information:
Mahlatse Mahlase – SANEF Chairperson, (083) 399-2852
Katy Katopodis – Acting SANEF Chairperson, (082) 805-7022
Moipone Malefane – SANEF Secretary-General (082) 772-5861
Mary Papayya – Acting SANEF Media Freedom Chair (082) 379-4957
Sbu Ngalwa – SANEF Eastern Cape Convenor (073) 404-1415
Janet Heard – SANEF Western Cape SANEF Convenor (078) 041-9528
Hopewell Radebe – SANEF Acting Gauteng Regional Convenor (083) 582-1734
Judy Sandison – SANEF KZN Convenor (082) 571-3334
Kate Skinner – SANEF Executive Director – (082) 926-6404