Editors condemn journalists’ arrest

2011-01-04 14:28

The SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) today added its voice to those condemning police for arresting two journalists while they were carrying out normal reporting duties.

“Even more alarming was the police confiscation of the journalists’ cellphones and other equipment which was handed back only after the intervention of a lawyer,” Sanef said in a statement.

Sanef’s concern about the confiscation of the equipment – cameras and cellphones – arose from the fact that it might have contained confidential information which the reporters were professionally ethically bound to protect.

“The police had ample time to examine the contents of the cellphones and other equipment to gather information to which legally they were not entitled,” Sanef said.

Penwell Dlamini and Antonio Muchave were arrested by Hillbrow police on December 29.

They were detained while covering a story on the eviction of nine families from Regal Court flats in Johannesburg’s city centre.

“As far as Sanef is aware no charges were laid against the journalists who were in custody for an hour and no valid reason was advanced for the confiscation of the equipment.

“The fact that the equipment was returned to the journalists after a lawyer had intervened suggests that the police acted illegally in taking the equipment and were probably engaged in a fishing expedition to try to gather information or evidence about a potential crime – totally unacceptable conduct.”

Also deeply alarming was the comment cited by lawyer Okyerebea Ampofo-Anti by Hillbrow police acting station commander Colonel Kobus van Rooyen that the journalists “should have asked for permission before taking photographs of a police operation”.

This statement revealed ignorance of the law and police standing orders and represented unacceptable if not illegal interference with journalists in carrying out their duties to keep the public informed, Sanef said.

Sanef’s concerns were all the greater because this latest incident followed some dozen similar illegal arrests of journalists at crime and incident scenes and the strong complaints about this made in the past year by Sanef at meetings with Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and National Police Commissioner Bheki Cele.

“In light of Cele’s deportation of a British journalist on the flimsiest of grounds after the World Cup last year, the increasing tempo of President Jacob Zuma’s libel claims against newspapers more than two years after publication of the alleged offending material, the ANC’s plan to control the print media through the establishment of a statutory media appeals tribunal, and Zuma’s firm support for the tribunal, as well as this latest attack on the two journalists and pending restrictive media laws, Sanef believes that the news media will be confronted with a concerted attack on it in the coming year.”

Earlier today, it emerged that the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) was to investigate the incident following a request by the Democratic Alliance.

“The matter will be given the necessary attention and progress will be reported to you in due course,” ICD executive director Francois Beukman wrote in a letter to the DA’s Dianne Kohler-Barnard yesterday.

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