It’s D-Day for media on reporting on Nkandla hearings

2014-11-19 00:00

MEDIA24 believes unless the media are granted access to the controversial Nkandla upgrade hearings, any decision runs the “risk of being seen as illegitimate”.

The decision on whether media access will be granted will be taken today in Durban. Media24 and Independent Newspapers have both made an application.

Last week, officials implicated in the multi-million-rand Nkandla upgrade opposed the media’s access on the grounds their lives could be in danger.

In a 26-page written submission, 10 of the 12 employees accused of ignoring the tender regulations to upgrade President Jacob Zuma’s private Nkandla estate at a cost of R246 million, said there was a “reasonable apprehension of fear that their lives may be in danger” as part of their reason to oppose media access.

Advocate Sarah Pudifin-Jones, counsel for Media24, said in response to the 26-page document that although the employees at various stages in the lead-up to the disciplinary hearings indicated they were not opposed to media access, their about-turn regarding consent was “without adequate explanation”.

She said they failed to comply with an order given on November 7 that they file affidavits setting out the grounds of opposition.

Her eight-page reply said the nature of the charges meant there was “nothing confidential about the hearings”.

“There is a strong suspicion that the employees are being used as scapegoats for the irregular expenditure ­incurred in the Nkandla upgrades.”

Pudifin-Jones said the employees failed “at the first hurdle” to provide evidence of “demonstrable and substantial” prejudice.

“If proceedings are conducted behind closed doors, regardless of how scrupulously they are conducted, there will inevitably be rumour, hearsay reports and speculation such that, whatever decision is handed down behind closed doors, runs the risk of being seen as illegitimate or lacking credibility in the eyes of the public.”

Media24 is seeking access for its print media only. Pudifin-Jones said if the employees were innocent they should “welcome the opportunity to clear their name in the open” and not to hide “behind closed doors”.

Should access be denied media lawyers confirmed they would have the right to approach the Durban high court.

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