The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) welcomes the court’s decision to postpone the case brought by the South African Police Service against e-TV reporter Mpho Lakaje and editor Ben Said.
The agreement by e-TV lawyers and the office of the National Director of Public Prosecutions provides that the parties follow the process outlined in the Record of Understanding (RoU) reached between Sanef and the authorities in 1999 whenever either the police or prosecuting authorities seek confidential information from journalists. The police had ignored this important agreement when proceeding with the subpoenas in the first instance.
We welcome the development, which is in line with what Sanef has been saying since the SAPS acted against e-TV. On Sunday, Sanef called on the police and prosecuting authorities to withdraw the subpoenas.
We pointed out that the subpoenas had become even more unnecessary after the police announced that they had, apparently through normal police work, arrested one of the alleged culprits in the e-TV broadcast and were about to arrest the second one.
We hope for a similar outcome in the case against Asa Sokopo, of Daily Dispatch, which is scheduled for court on Friday.
The 1999 Record of Understanding between the Minister for Justice and the then Safety and Security, the Director of Public Prosecutions and Sanef states 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.
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, or parts 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.