Sanef, journalists ask court for urgent interdict against 'harassing' BLF

2017-07-04 10:48

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Cape Town - The SA National Editors Forum (Sanef) has applied for an urgent interdict against Andile Mngxitama and his organisation Black First Land First (BLF), which they accuse of intimidation being carried out to quash reports on state capture allegations.

The application, led by Sanef chairperson Mahlatse Gallens - who is also political editor at News24 - was filed in the High Court in Johannesburg on Tuesday. It also seeks to protect the constitutional right to freedom of the press.

"This rationale of targeted harassment, so that the public remains none the wiser on the extent to which it is said that these high-profile politicians and private interests benefit from corruption and maladministration, constitutes a clear breach of freedom of expression because it violates the right of the public to be informed, a core responsibility a free and independent press," Gallens said in a founding affidavit in the matter.

The applicants with Sanef are:

Business Day editor Tim Cohen;

Tiso Blackstar editor at large Peter Bruce;

Amabhungane investigative journalist Sam Sole;

News24 editor Adriaan Basson;

EWN journalist and political commentator Stephen Grootes;

Columnist Max du Preez;

EWN reporter Barry Bateman;

Journalist and political analyst Karima Brown;

Political commentator and talk show host Eusebius McKaiser;

Huffington Post editor-at-large Ferial Haffajee;

Primedia Group editor-in-chief Katy Katopodis.

Sanef and the applicants submitted that BLF made fun of Police Minister Fikile's Mbalula's call to leave journalists alone.

Harassment

The group has asked the court to interdict Mngxitama and BLF from harassing, intimidating, assaulting and threatening the journalists and editors over their reporting and analysis on corruption and state capture.

''The reason for the harassment is because they have carried on their work independently as journalists," Gallens's founding affidavit said.

“Each one of the journalists are senior professionals who in their area of reporting expertise have reported to the nation, objectively and independently on the political state of the South African economy and the corruption and maladministration consequent upon the alleged capturing of the national economy to further the interests of an elite few.”

She said the purpose of BLF's actions was to keep allegations regarding state capture and corruption out the public domain.

“The concerns around state capture are rife. Not a day goes by that we as South Africans are not faced with the pervasive impact of its corruption and maladministration. It is important that free and independent journalism is brought to bear on these reports because the media is also a catalyst of peace, dialogue and understanding, which will create the framework for the public to digest these reports within the bounds of the rule of law," the affidavit said.

"If we are perceived in any way as falsifying information because we are being threatened, public debate becomes fractured, polarised and I daresay, volatile as a consequence of segments of society perceiving themselves as being misled."

Gallens, in the affidavit, referred to the death last week of SABC 8 journalist Suna Venter, one of a group of journalists dismissed from the public broadcaster when voicing concerns about editorial independence.

"It has since transpired that during the period of her suspension and ensuing litigation Ms Venter was constantly victimised and intimidated, having received death threats, and even being shot in the face. These acts of harassment eventually took its toll weakening Ms Venter to the point where she succumbed to her heart disease," she said.

"I use this example to demonstrate that not only are we journalists, but we are human beings vested with the rights to dignity and privacy and bodily integrity as guaranteed by the Constitution."

Gallens said the applicants felt violated by the conduct of BLF and Mngxitama.

"It goes without saying that it is emotionally straining to fear for your safety and that of your loved ones, when all you are doing is objectively delivering the news.  Ms Venter succumbed to the strain of such threats and indeed, the strain is similarly severe to the applicants."

Assault

Last Thursday Cohen was assaulted as he tried to take a picture of BLF supporters gathered outside Bruce's home in Johannesburg.

Bruce was targeted the week before in a series of articles and secretly taken photographs relating to his private life, indicating that he had been spied on.

On Thursday he wrote a column in Business Day about the surveillance and mentioned Mngxitama as a ''luckless land reformer'' who had tweeted to him: "you going to get a heart attack Peter; better prepare yourself" before the surveillance footage and personal information was published on a site complaining about White Monopoly Capital (WMC).

During Thursday's protest the words "Land or death" had been written on Bruce's garage as placards carried said: "Peter you murder the truth" and "Peter propagandist of WMC".

''As appears from some of the supporting affidavits filed with my affidavit, the first respondent and its founder, the second respondent, Mr Andile Mngxitama have embarked on a criminal campaign to harass, intimidate and attack any journalist whom they perceive as being opposed to what they stand for,'' submitted Gallens.

Last Friday a lawyer's letter, on behalf of Sanef, was addressed to BLF after the organisation warned that it would deal with certain white journalists.

These journalists included Bruce, Sole, Basson, Grootes, Du Preez, Bateman and Biznews editor Alec Hogg.

BLF had said it decided to target the "racist" journalists in its protest actions against "racism, slander, fake news and the covering up of white corruption under the guise of journalism".

Sanef's application was served on BLF and Mngxitama.

They have the opportunity to file answering papers before the matter is heard in court.

Read more on:    blf  |  sanef  |  politics  |  media

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