Journalists urged to fight back

2018-07-17 06:01

The Salt River-based Right2Know Campaign (R2K) is pushing for an end to surveillance abuses of journalists and calls on members of the media to join in the fight.

This as the campaign’s latest report paints a concerning picture of spying on South African journalists by the government and some in the private sector.

The report is the latest in a series of R2K publications looking at surveillance abuses in the past couple of years.

Big Brother Exposed in 2015 documented the testimonies of political activists and unionists who have been harassed or spied on by intelligence structures.

In 2017, Stop the Surveillance unpacked some of the main surveillance policies and practices in South Africa, especially the law called Rica, and New Terrains of Privacy in South Africa, in the same year, was a research study produced with the Media Policy and Democracy Project, exploring biometrics, data collection, SIM card registration and other mass surveillance practices.

The latest report, titled Spooked – Surveillance of Journalists in South Africa, shows how intelligence agencies and private-sector spooks have spied on investigative reporters and their sources.

It tells the stories of 10 individual journalists and teams who have detected surveillance against them – pointing to a need for urgent reforms of South Africa’s surveillance laws, as well as its security agencies.The targeted journalists, according to the report, are especially those who have uncovered corruption, state capture, and abuse of power and in-fighting in agencies like the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the State Security Agency (SSA), the Crime Intelligence division of the police and the Hawks.

Details of threats, harassment, abuse and eventually violence, as in the case of one SABC journalist who was shot at, are narrated.

“Today, many journalists are fearful that someone is listening in on their sensitive conversations and spying on their communications,” reads the report’s opening line.

It goes on to mention the likes of Sam Sole, the director of the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism and former Mail & Guardian investigative journalist, whose phone was allegedly tapped by the National Intelligence Agency (now the SSA) while he was reporting on the corruption investigation against Jacob Zuma in 2008.

Other investigative journalists including Jacques Pauw, Stephan Hofstatter and Mzilikazi wa Afrika, Athandiwe Saba, Peter Bruce and Rob Rose, Sipho Masondo and the SABC 8 as well as Tom Nkosi, the founder and publisher of Mpumalanga investigative newspaper Ziwaphi, have also been allegedly targeted, according to the report.

The report states that these surveillance abuses are carried out through Rica, “the Act that says you must link your SIM card, landline and internet account to your identity, so that any communications from that SIM card or account can be traced back to you”.

“However, Rica is not the only law that allows for surveillance. Section 205 of the Criminal Procedures Act, South Africa’s criminal law, allows law enforcement officials to bypass the Rica judge to get access to your phone records – which shows who you have communicated with, when, and where.”

In either situation, the person who has been spied on is never notified that their sensitive information was handed over, says the report.

R2K says it is pushing for an end to these abuses and recommends that journalists take the following practical steps to fight back:

. Know your rights and equip yourself with knowledge. Share the handbook with others.

. Challenge surveillance and state-security abuses, and make this part of daily struggles to build democracy.

. Demand laws and policies that protect our rights.

. Demand that Parliament and the inspector general of intelligence act as watchdogs against surveillance abuses.

. Join the Right2Know Campaign and volunteer at the monthly working group meetings.

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