Newspapers defy Nkandla pics ban

2013-11-22 11:35

Newspapers took a defiant stand against a Cabinet directive that publishing photographs of President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla homestead was against the law.

Afrikaans daily Beeld’s front page today was dominated by a large colour photograph, above the newspaper fold, of the estate under the headline, “Die verbode foto (The forbidden photo)”.

National daily The Times, was similarly recalcitrant, with a front page aerial photograph of the president’s KwaZulu-Natal home under the headline “So, arrest us”.

The subheader reads: “Our money paid for it, but they won’t let us see it.”

Joburg daily The Star also carried a front page photograph of the upgrades with a hazy red cross over it. The picture bore the legend “Look away! What Minister Cwele doesn’t want you to see”.

Cape Town dailies the Cape Argus and Cape Times also published the photographs, and the national daily Sowetan published the photograph on page four.

The SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) said yesterday it would not abide by State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele’s warning not to publish photographs of the Nkandla homestead.

“We will continue to publish images ... because we firmly believe there is immense public interest in doing so,” Sanef said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, Cwele warned the media that it was illegal to publish the pictures.

It was an unacceptable security breach, under the National Key Points Act, that would not be tolerated in any democracy, Cwele said.

“It is important also to just send a caution that we have got laws – yes, some of them we will have to amend – but the continuing of flaunting of these pictures [of] a place which has been declared by the minister of police as a national key point is also not correct. It is a breach of law,” he said.

Sanef said it was not the intention of the media to undermine Zuma’s security by publishing the pictures.

“Similarly, we publish photos of other national key points, like the Union Buildings and Parliament on an almost daily basis,” it said.

“It must always be remembered that these upgrades were done to President Zuma’s private residence, from which he and his family will continue to benefit for years to come, and not state property.”

The government has been criticised for spending R206 million on upgrades, which it said was for security, to the president’s private residence. A report by the Public Protector on the matter is being finalised.

The editors said the photographs published had been taken from a distance or from the air to show the extent of the upgrades to the property.

Financial daily Business Day ran with the story on its front page and carried it over to page two, but did not publish photographs.

Beeld outlined its reasons for printing the picture alongside the photograph. It asked what former president Nelson Mandela’s response to the Cabinet injunction would have been, with two 20-year-old quotes of Mandela’s on the importance of protecting press freedom.

“Beeld publishes today another Nkandla picture in protest against attempts by Zuma’s inner-circle to protect him against tough questions. We do not believe it is illegal to do so.”

It said the apartheid-era’s laws on national key points could never have intended to shield a sitting president from embarrassment.

The Times, in an editorial, said it agreed with Sanef and would continue to publish the pictures.

“Efforts to stop us from doing so will be a betrayal of our duty as watchdogs of democracy,” it said.

“Are the ministers aware of Google Earth, through which anyone with access to the internet can view ... pictures of the Nkandla residence from anywhere in the world?”

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