The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) condemns the restrictions faced by the Herald Newspaper in Port Elizabeth in covering a case by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) against a prominent endocrinologist in Port Elizabeth for allegations of sexual assault and rape levelled against him by former patients.
The accused’s legal representative raised an objection about the presence of The Herald’s news editor and a reporter at the inquiry on Wednesday. He argued that the naming of his client was unlawful and thus The Herald should be barred from reporting on the matter. After hearing the arguments, the HPCSA committee made an order in agreement with the legal representative. Ironically, another newspaper, Die Burger, was allowed to report ostensibly on the matter because they had not named the accused. They could stay but not report.
All proceedings before the professional conduct committee of the HPCSA are by default open to the public. The HPCSA Regulations relating to the “Conduct of Inquiries into alleged Unprofessional Conduct” allow the committee to deviate from this principle only in special circumstances. Those exceptions relate exclusively to in camera proceedings and orders aimed at protecting the identity of persons “other than the respondent” i.e. the accused in this matter.
We understand that the thrust of the argument about the doctor’s alleged right to anonymity is based on certain provisions of the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA). However, he has not been arrested or charged in connection with the allegations against him and the CPA has no bearing on this matter.
In addition the imposition of a gag on the media in publishing the identity of the doctor will serve no purpose, as it is now a matter of public record. He was already identified on 17 September 2020 and on 20 January 2021.
SANEF believes that the ruling made yesterday to stop the Herald from reporting was a blatant restriction on the media’ duty to report on a matter of significant public interest.
As the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal have repeatedly emphasised, the principle of open justice is one of the foundational principles of our constitutional democracy.
Further it is important to note that the principal of open justice does not merely apply to proceedings in court, but to all fora where justice may be dispensed. A wide range of formal proceedings have been opened to the public including CCMA arbitrations.
In support of The Herald SANEF demands:
- That the professional conduct committee abandon the order barring The Herald from reporting on the proceedings and/or from identifying the respondent.
- That the committee immediately suspend its proceedings, pending the outcome of an urgent High Court application to be launched by The Herald, seeking to review and set aside the order of the professional conduct committee together with such further relief as may be necessary.
Gender based violence remains a tragic blight on our society and the media must be allowed to play its part in bringing these matters to light.
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 South African 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 please contact:
Sbu Ngalwa – SANEF Chairperson (073) 404-1415
Adriaan Basson – SANEF Deputy Chairperson (082) 562-2113
Mahlatse Mahlase – Secretary General (083) 399-2852
Nwabisa Makunga – Treasurer (082) 555-1972
Mary Papayya – SANEF Media Freedom Chair (082) 379-4957
Chiara Carter – SANEF Eastern Cape Convenor (082) 659-9162
Katy Katopodis – SANEF Gauteng Convenor (082) 805-7022
Judy Sandison – SANEF KZN Convenor (082) 571-3334
Asanda Ngoasheng – Western Cape Convenor – 082 610 9374
Kate Skinner – SANEF Executive Director – (082) 926-6404
Email: [email protected] Website: www.sanef.org.za