The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) is deeply concerned over a report in The Herald newspaper in Port Elizabeth that the police in the city allegedly “bullied” staff at the Nelson Mandela Bay community television station, Bay TV, to hand over video footage of xenophobic attacks in the city’s Booysen Park area two weeks ago that resulted in a Somali man allegedly being beaten to death.
Bay TV deputy station manager Lungile Nduvane claimed that, on Friday 7 June 2013, the police bullied staff by using “strong-arm tactics” to force them into handing over video footage of the alleged murder and other incidents, including the looting of foreign-owned shops. He claimed that, despite Bay TV having handed over video material to the police at the time it was aired after the attacks, the police “stormed into our offices with a warrant to search and seize the memory card with the unedited footage on it. Two detectives then threatened to break the place down and arrest me for obstruction of justice if I didn’t hand it over to them.”
Provincial police spokeswoman Brigadier Miranda Mills denied there had been any intimidation and said the video footage was crucial to the police’s investigation, according to The Herald. “We want to identify the people involved and for this we need the footage. It is important for the case. We obviously need all of it. I can state that all the correct procedures were followed and that necessary paperwork was in place.”
The police applied Section 205 of the Criminal Procedure Act – the law under which demands can be made on journalists to reveal their sources or what they know about an alleged crime – as the legal basis for their actions.
Sanef is concerned that the police failed to abide by the Memorandum of Understanding reached between Sanef and the Ministers of Justice and Safety and Security on 19 February 1999. That memorandum lays down that, before resorting to Section 205, an opportunity must be provided for the matter to be referred to the National Director of Public Prosecutions to enable consultations and negotiations between all stakeholders to be held.
Sanef is also alarmed at the allegations of police “bullying” and calls for the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) to investigate this allegation and the failure of the police to abide by the Memorandum of Understanding.
Sanef points out that the conduct of the police at Bay TV could have the effect of the TV journalists being labelled police informers, which could endanger their lives. The Memorandum of Understanding accepts the need for the balancing of the interests of maintaining law and order with the right of freedom of the press and the media.