Cop brutality: Police promise to work closer with media

2015-05-08 15:02
Police commissioner Riah Phiyega and Sanef executive director Mathatha Tsedu

Police commissioner Riah Phiyega and Sanef executive director Mathatha Tsedu (Lisa Hnatowicz / Nuus Noord)

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The police and the media have promised to work closer together to build stronger relationships and understanding of each other’s roles.

The promise came after a meeting between the South African National Editors’ Forum and police commissioner Riah Phiyega to discuss instances of police brutality against journalists.

The meeting, which took place yesterday at the SAPS Training College in Pretoria, came amid concerns at the growing number of incidents where police have prevented journalists from working when out on crime scenes, including forcing reporters to delete photographs and footage from their cameras.

Despite all police officers being governed by SAPS Standing Order 156, which stipulates that an SAPS “member must treat all media representatives with courtesy, dignity and respect, even when provoked and promote ethical communication with the media”, many incidents have pointed to the contrary.

The standing order also stipulates that states “a media representative may not be prohibited from taking photographs or making visual recordings” of the police, and that journalists disturbing evidence or obstructing the police from performing their duties may be “requested to leave the crime scene”.

In an incident just before the state of the nation address in February, Media24 parliamentary reporter Jan Gerber was forced by parliamentary security personnel belonging to the SAPS to delete photos from his camera after he was allegedly assaulted.

Sanef executive director Mathatha Tsedu said it was such incidents that promoted the forum to convene a meeting with Phiyega to get reassurance that all police officers understood the standing order and did not impede journalists from doing their work.

“These sort of things should not happen as Standing Order 156 regulates how the SAPS deals with the media and we looked at the process. We discussed pictures being deleted and wanted to ensure that the SAPS didn’t condone this behaviour,” said Tsedu.

While Phiyega admitted that some police officers ignored the standing order, which is a 20-page document illustrating how the media should be treated by the police, she urged journalists to be cautious when working at a crime scene and ensure that their behaviour did not impede police investigations or contaminate crime scenes.

Phiyega hailed the work done by journalists and said they had a critical role to play in the fight against crime, as demonstrated by photographs that showed the killers of Mozambican man Emmanuel Sithole being stabbed, leading to the arrest of four men.

She said reported incidents where journalists claimed to have been manhandled by police and forced to delete photos accounted for a small number of complaints.

“This is a reciprocal and mutual learning process for the police and the media,” said Phiyega.

Tsedu said Sanef would produce a manual for all journalists that detailed how they should conduct themselves when working out with police. Meetings with police officers would be arranged to discuss these issues.

He said the fragile relationship between the police and journalists, which has led to the latter accusing police of infringing on the media’s constitutional right to freedom of expression, would need to be ironed out, with interaction between editors, reporters, police top brass and lower ranking officials.
Read more on:    sanef  |  riah phiyega  |  media

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