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SANEF finds the arrest of a journalist covering elections in Soweto unacceptable

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The SA National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) notes with grave concern the heavy-handed actions of the South African Police Service who arrested Newzroom Afrika Journalist Ziniko kaMhlaba who was covering elections in Soweto.

According to Ziniko, he tried to request the presiding officer to interview party agents and members of the public outside the voting station but she refused to talk to him. She ordered him and a camera person to leave the premises outside the Zakheni Primary School.

Ziniko tried to engage the Gauteng IEC media liaison officer to mediate, but his efforts were fruitless as the presiding officer “just walked away and refused to take the call”. When police who observed the discussion refused to kick him out of the school premises on grounds that he had not broken any law, the presiding officer then called the Orlando Police Station and reported him allegedly as a person disrupting the elections inside the hall of the polling station.

“A senior officer who introduced herself as Station Commander Kubheka came and threatened to arrest me if I did not stop trying to interview the public on issues of lack of electricity and others that affected them.”

“We were never inside the building where voting was taking place, but the presiding officer seemed to have informed senior officials that we were inside,” he said, adding that his live crossing to the studio was interrupted by Kubheka and they chased and took phones from public members who were recording the incident.

He said his colleague was never arrested but was harassed, intimidated, and forced to stop recording while he was arrested and detained in a car for a while before being taken to the police cells. Ziniko was detained for over 2 hours, he was then taken out of the cells, interviewed by a team of officers and released without charged filed.

SANEF notes the IEC’s statement of an investigation into circumstances that led to the brief arrest and release of Ziniko.

Chief Electoral Officer Sy Mamabolo told journalists at an IEC briefing that while details were sketchy, the IEC had launched a fact-finding mission to determine the circumstances surrounding Ziniko’s arrest and undertook to brief the media fraternity on the outcome of the process.

Brigadier Vish Naidoo said police were forced to remove a television journalist and a cameraman from a polling station in Orlando East, Soweto after they allegedly interfered with the work of the presiding officer at that station.

“It is rather unfortunate that this situation resulted in a confrontation between police and the journalist,” Naidoo said.

SANEF notes that the Provincial Commissioner of Gauteng Elias Mawela ordered both the release of the journalist from the Orlando Police Station and an investigation into this matter.

SANEF chairperson Sbu Ngalwa and a colleague of Ziniko said: “I’m glad that our colleague Ziniko has been released. His arrest was totally unnecessary and sheer abuse of power by the police. No journalist should be arrested/harassed for merely doing their job. Journalism is not a crime!”

SANEF has worked with the IEC on the training of journalists about all matters regarding the elections including powers of presiding officers and the rights of journalists in the field when covering elections. This was proactively done to ensure cooperation and the smooth running of elections.

SANEF is concerned that despite all the pre-election engagements and preparations, something like this still happened and the police reacted with a heavy hand instead of facilitating an amicable solution.

Harassment of SABC journalists in Limpopo

In an unrelated elections coverage case, SANEF is disappointed to hear that three SABC reporters were harassed and intimidated by members of the public while reporting on elections issues near the polling station in the hostel in Tsabeng, in Tzaneen, Limpopo Province.

SANEF was told that after packing their equipment to leave the area to report elsewhere, a group of men and women hostel residents hurled insults at SABC reporters Pimani Baloyi, Mahlatse Phaladi, and cameraman Mpho Masela demanding that they immediately leave the area because the media was not welcome there.

Baloyi gave credit to their colleague Mpho, who was driving the organisation’s vehicle, saying he calmly tried to manoeuvre slowly and leave the area while the group approached the car and pounded the car bonnet with their hands.

“We stayed calm and slowly drove off and avoided confrontation. We were not physically harmed,” Baloyi said

SANEF reiterates the importance of public support and understanding of the role of the media as an enabler for democracy, by ensuring the nation has better-educated voters that would lead to a more legitimate government. Without journalists focusing on the plight of communities, local government development stories, will go unreported.

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

Reggy Moalusi – SANEF Executive Director (071) 682-3695

Twitter: @SAEditorsForum

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