Johann van Tonder

Leave us photojournos alone

2005-02-03 13:12
<b>Advocate 'Barbie' and Prinsloo. (Beeld)</b>

Advocate 'Barbie' and Prinsloo. (Beeld)

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News reports this week mentioned almost as an afterthought the threat to subpoena a photographer in the sex trial of advocates Dirk Prinsloo and Cezanne Visser, aka "adv Barbie".

In recent days, much of Prinsloo's defence has been an at attack on the way police handled the investigation.

His lawyer argued that police actions were calculated to create sensation and cause him embarrassment. (I always find it amazing that the lawyers we rely on in tough times get other lawyers to defend them when accused of crimes.)

As an example, it was pointed out that his arrest was carried out by no less than the special task force. He questions the appropriateness of this.

After all, he and Barbie only stand accused of rape, possessing and manufacturing child pornography, sexual exploitation of a minor, enticing a minor to commit indecent acts, fraud and possessing dagga.

To help him prove his allegations, the defence wanted to submit a newspaper photograph showing his arrest. To strengthen their case, they would subpoena the photographer to testify that the picture was real and authentic.

I shudder whenever I hear the words "subpoena" and "photographer" in the same sentence.

Getting a member of the media to testify in favour of any party is a sure way to mess up the leftovers of our integrity and claims of independence. It would also make it impossible to do our work and inform the public.

The Staggie trial

Four years ago, photographer Benny Gool refused to testify in the widely-publicised case against Pagad-members accused of killing Rashaad Staggie in public. Critics felt then that journalists also had duties as civilians.

"I don't have anything valuable to say. I was in a ditch taking photographs and have no idea who was responsible for the shooting," Gool said at the time.

Besides, he pointed out, there were many police members and intelligence agents on the scene, tasked with doing exactly that which they were now expecting from a journalist.

Apart from the threats on Gool's life, there were broad consequences for the media.

That very week, I was assigned to cover an unrelated story in Cape Town, when I was physically attacked by the crowd.

My presence compromised them, they said. Citing Gool's subpoena, they shouted that I couldn't be trusted as an independent party any more.

Heck, these guys were merely observing the same event I wanted to cover - I wasn't even there for them.

Send your comments to Johann

  • Johann van Tonder is an award-winning news and conflict photographer, and was previously photo editor at Die Burger. He lectures in photojournalism part-time at the University of Stellenbosch and Rhodes University. He is currently finishing a book on how to break into the exclusive industry of photojournalism.

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