On 16 January 2020, the South African National Editors’ Forum condemns in strongest terms the SAPS official who barred journalists from using electronic devices, including laptops and taking pictures inside the Durban Commercial Crimes court during the appearance of former Ethekwini Mayor Zandile Gumede yesterday.
The case was adjourned to 16 April 2020. Gumede and her co-accused, are implicated in a 2016 R208-million Durban Solid Waste tender contract, which has now increased to R389-million.
SANEF has heard that the officer told journalists they were not allowed to use the devices that they needed to report the story with as tools of their trade. It was not the decision, or the order of the presiding magistrate and members of the public were using their phones throughout the court proceedings.
Furthermore, News 24 Journalist Kaveel Singh said: “I was told if I did not switch my laptop, I would be kicked out of the court room. He (Officer) said he could kick me out right now and that I don’t have the right to be there. I was also asked to speak to the Prosecutor who agreed that we could bromide our equipment.”
With regards to the behavior of SAPS members, SANEF believes it is time that Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola impress upon his counterparts in the security cluster that all state organs seek to protect journalists and stop this gross violation of the Constitution.
The prevention of journalists from covering court proceedings 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”. Therefore, the protection and encouragement of the free press, freedom of speech and the free flow of information are cornerstones of our Constitution’s Bill of Rights that must be mainly observed by SAPS members.
In the words of Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo addressing the South African National Editors’ Forum in Cape Town on 13 February 2010, it is the principle of open justice that brings the judiciary and the media together.
“It is this principle that requires courts to open their doors to the media so the media can observe how the judicial system functions and the extent to which courts uphold the Constitution and the law and administer justice to all without fear, favour or prejudice.”
“We need the media to help the public to hold us accountable for our judgments and jurisprudence and operation of the courts. We also need the media to inform the public about our work, so that they can have confidence in their judicial system. But importantly, we in the judiciary need the media to treat us with respect, and through responsible and honest reporting, to offer us the protection and support necessary to safeguard our independence,” Chief Justice Ngcobo said.
SANEF has been engaging the Magistrates Commission since 2018 regarding difficulties faced by members of the media concerning access to the Magistrate’s Courts. It is due to inconsistent approaches by different Magistrates to questions of the media gaining access to courts where, on some occasions, media representatives were permitted to be in court whilst on others, they were asked to leave court without a valid reason. Similarly, there were inconsistencies in dealing with requests to photograph, record or broadcast proceedings.
In the spirit of ensuring that Magistrates work with the media and that both sides respect each other, SANEF will table these issues before the relevant authorities including the Judge President. However, we believe that a frank dialogue with the Magistrates Commission is the only method to resolve these misunderstandings so that they never devolve into acrimonious disputes.
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