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Sanef appalled that Section 205 of the Criminal Procedures Act has been invoked against journalists

The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) is appalled that Section 205 of the Criminal Procedures Act has been invoked against journalists working for free to air channel eTV. Sanef strongly believes that a journalist’s independence and credibility is jeopardised if he or she were seen by the public to be willing informants of the police or other official.

Journalists should not be used as freelance information gatherers for the police.

Sanef believes that journalists should be treated in accordance with the principles outlined in the Record of Understanding reached between the Ministers of Justice and Safety and Security and the Director of Public Prosecutions and Sanef in 1999 “that the press and the media in a democratic society have a right and a duty, in the public interest, to collect and disseminate newsworthy information and in order to exercise this right and duty it is necessary, under appropriate circumstances, that their sources and information should be protected”.

In terms of the Record of Understanding, the director of prosecutions must hear representations from the police and the media. After hearing the interested parties, the national director would make a determination with regard to the issuing of the subpoena by weighing the need to uphold the maintenance of law and order and the administration of justice against the right of freedom of expression and freedom of the press and other media.

This piece of legislation is among a number of apartheid-era laws which Sanef wants amended to provide journalists with a defence of “just excuse” not to supply this information. Our concerns have been raised with President Jacob Zuma and his predecessors Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe.

The record of understanding is a temporary measure to prevent abuse of Section 205 while we negotiate the removal or amendment of the Act. Section 205 is among several pieces of legislation, inimical to media freedom, that Sanef has placed on an agenda for a planned colloquium with government, which we expect will take place soon.

In view of the sensitivity of issues surrounding journalists giving undertakings to protect the identity of confidential sources of information and their determination to uphold those undertakings, Sanef is disturbed that the police have brushed aside this important agreement and its requirements. Sanef therefore calls on the police to withdraw the subpoenas and to follow the processes outlined in the Memorandum of Understanding.

Sanef has learnt with shock about the death of one of the people interviewed by eTV and mourn with the family.