‘We don’t want News24 here. We will kill them here’

2016-10-05 07:10
Adriaan Basson

Adriaan Basson

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Cape Town - It’s been a few bruising days at the office for team News24.

On Friday Kaveel Singh, one of our reporters in Durban, was manhandled and arrested by police at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) for covering #FeesMustFall protests at that campus.

Singh’s video footage of police strong-arming protesting students off campus was deleted by a trigger-happy cop who arrested him with the assistance of metro police officers and private security guards.

Singh was locked-up in the back of a private security van and driven to Westville police office, where he was held with students and told he would be charged with trespassing. Trespassing, yes. At a public university.

We need not add any additional comment to what was said by UKZN spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka after Singh’s arrest: “This is absolute rubbish. The man was doing his job.”

KwaZulu-Natal provincial police spokesperson Jay Naicker intervened and, to his credit, sent a colleague to Westville to resolve this ridiculous abuse of power. But not before we had to hire a lawyer to rush to Singh’s defence.

A few hours later Singh was released without being charged. We are considering our legal options.

'We will kill them'

On Tuesday journalist Lizeka Tandwa had to be hospitalised after being hit by a brick during clashes between students and police at Wits University. And a few hours later, another colleague overheard a small group of students saying they didn’t want News24 reporters around at Wits. “Not from News24. They kak here. We don’t want them here. We will kill them here,” was the naked threat.

No ambiguity in the statements by these young men.

The colleague stopped recording and left the scene. When he started recording again later from a different angle, other students saw him, pointed at him and told him to go.

Netwerk24 video journalist Debree Kluge was hit by two police rubber bullets while covering the protests at Wits.

Last week journalists were attacked by private security guards at the University of Johannesburg’s Kingsway and Doornkloof campuses. A photographer was punched repeatedly in the head, hit with a stick in the stomach, and then pepper sprayed at close range.

Another group of reporters were ordered to sit in the road and pepper sprayed by guards.

Journalists – trying to do their jobs, covering all the layered sides of the epic #FeesMustFall battle for free higher education – have of late become the targets of the protagonists in this drama. Police officers, private security guards and protesting students have set their sights on us, the messengers who are trying to make sense of these complicated historical events.

'Self-censorship our biggest threat'

It has now reached a point where we as editors seriously need to reconsider whether it’s actually worth the risk sending reporters into situations where they are threatened with death – literally.

The biggest threat is that we start employing self-censorship when covering #FeesMustFall: either embedding ourselves in one side of the story or working from the far fringes from where we can’t see the wood for the trees.

This would serve nobody’s best interest – not those of the universities, the cops and certainly not the protesting students. Criticism of the media’s coverage of #FeesMustFall is well-documented and acknowledged.

Of course we will make mistakes and sometimes get it wrong, but we really, really want and need to understand the issues at hand to be able to report accurately on what has become a mini-war on our campuses.

It becomes increasingly difficult to engage with the substance of the arguments when you are being threatened with being “killed” or pepper sprayed every time you show your press card.

- What do you think of the media’s coverage of #FeesMustFall? Are all voices being heard? Send your views to feedback@news24.com

- Basson is the editor of News24


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