The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) is deeply concerned about an unannounced visit by officers of the South African Police Service (SAPS) to The Star’s Johannesburg office yesterday, Wednesday, 21 August 2013.
During the visit by detectives of the Hillbrow police station, The Star’s editor Makhudu Sefara was asked to provide a warning statement to the police about the newspaper’s ‘battle with Pikitup’. Sefara rightfully declined to cooperate and referred the detectives to the newspaper’s lawyers. The Star has been leading reportage about allegations of corruption and fraud at Pikitup, the City of Johannesburg’s waste management company. The Star has recently published several reports about irregularities at Pikitup based on a confidential report seen by its reporters.
Pikitup’s managing director, Amanda Nair, has now launched a two-pronged attack on The Star, by laying criminal charges of theft of the forensic report against the newspaper and by launching a high court application for the return of the forensic report by The Star.
The Sunday Times received a similar unannounced visit last week during which police demanded the return of the copy of the report legally acquired by the newspaper. The newspaper’s lawyer was called to the meeting and the police team left after a robust discussion. Senior Sunday Times staff experienced the unannounced visit as intimidatory and inappropriate. Police returned by appointment on Monday to take a statement in which the Sunday Times stated that the report was legally acquired and would not be surrendered.
Although it is within Pikitup’s constitutional rights to take action – provided it is lawful – if the agency believes it has been wronged, it is also the public’s right to know if public funds were squandered by the agency and the media’s right and duty to expose such wrongdoing.
The SAPS cannot arrive unannounced at a newspaper’s office and demand warning statements from journalists without even informing the editor about the basis of the complaint. The only possible interpretation of this visit is that it was an attempt to intimidate The Star and its reporters.
Sanef will express its deep concern about the conduct of police officers to the office of General Riah Phiyega, the national police commissioner.
Issued by the SA National Editors’ Forum (SANEF)
22 August 2013