The Media Mill, 7 Quince Street, Milpark, Johannesburg

Sanef disappointed in ruling to broadcast Zandile Gumede case

Former eThekwini Mayor Zandile Gumede pict: twitter

The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) notes the ruling by Magistrate Dawn Soomaroo on our application for the broadcasting of the court case involving the matter of former eThekwini Mayor Zandile Gumede and 16 others.

We are disappointed that our application to have the proceedings of the case broadcast has been denied. Although not clearly stated, the application to record for purposes of radio also appears to have been denied. The Magistrate has not yet issued reasons for her ruling, but this will be requested by SANEF. SANEF believes that there is a clear basis for an appeal to the High Court based on this ruling.

To download Magistrate Dawn Soomaroo’s ruling click here

The media will only be permitted to do the following:

1.​ Six journalists can attend court, subject to SANEF providing a list of attendees to the court manager five days prior to each court date. This ruling was made because the court manager requested that all parties must let the court know beforehand who is going to be present to enable them to control access to the building and manage the situation for Covid-19 purposes;

2.​ Photos and video recordings can be taken inside the courtroom for 15 minutes before court, during any adjournment and at the end of proceedings each day.

No photographs or videos may be taken in the corridors outside the courtroom. In court, on Thursday 10 December 2020, the Magistrate expressed concern about the fact that there are sexual offences courts that take place on the same floor and she doesn’t want the media to inadvertently disclose the identities of the people involved in those proceedings.

The only other aspect of the request that has been granted is that an additional empty courtroom will be made available for members of the media to use when attending court. The application for an additional room was made in order to link a TV screen broadcasting the proceedings to help an extra number of journalists report from there since the seats inside the court are limited due to COVID-19 protocols. While this will now be of limited use without the TV screens, it will assist with the accommodation of journalists at court.

SANEF also notes that this ruling will only apply to the pre-trial proceedings that this magistrate will be presiding over and not to the trial itself. SANEF has been informed that once the trial begins, a new presiding officer will be appointed and that the case may even be moved to the High Court. This presents an opportunity for the media to once again apply for media access once the trial begins.

SANEF has received legal advice that this ruling, unfortunately, deviates from the principles set out in the leading Supreme Court of Appeal case on the matter which endorses the approach that broadcasting should generally be permitted subject to reasonable restrictions unless there is a real risk that substantial prejudice will occur.

We also believe that Magistrate Soomaroo’s ruling does not accord with the approach stated in the Guidelines on Media Access to Magistrate Court Proceedings issued by the Magistrates Commission earlier this year which state that courts should not restrict the nature and scope of broadcasting unless prejudice is demonstrable and there is a real risk that such prejudice will occur.

In essence, what the Magistrate has done is ban all video coverage while court is in session – even broadcasts of counsel making an argument and of her handing down rulings, which the Guideline states should be allowed unless the presiding officer rules otherwise.

Meanwhile, SANEF will endeavour to persuade the Magistrates Commission to implement training for all Magistrates around the Guidelines to ensure that the principle of open justice is upheld without the need to resort to lengthy and costly litigation.

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

Asanda Ngoasheng – Western Cape Convenor – 082 610 9374

Judy Sandison – SANEF KZN Convenor (082) 571-3334

Katy Katopodis – SANEF Gauteng Convenor (082) 805-7022

Chiara Carter – SANEF Eastern Cape Convenor (082) 659-9162

Kate Skinner – SANEF Executive Director – (082) 926-6404

Twitter: @SAEditorsForum

Email: [email protected]  Website: www.sanef.org.za