DA 'unshaken' after journalists blocked from entering its briefing at Durban City Hall

2019-02-05 20:36
eThekwini Mayor Zandile Gumede (Gallo Images)

eThekwini Mayor Zandile Gumede (Gallo Images)

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Journalists were blocked from entering the Durban City Hall to attend a DA media briefing on Tuesday but the political party says it will not be shaken by intimidation attempts.

Ethekwini Mayor Zandile Gumede (ANC) has also distanced herself from the commotion, saying she never instructed Metro Police officers to do anything to members of the media.

Democratic Alliance eThekwini Caucus Leader Nicole Graham explained that party councillors had booked a venue at the city hall to hold a press briefing about "ANC mismanagement". It related to fraud and corruption cases which were allegedly not attended to.

"When media began arriving, security blocked media from entering the building," she said.

After discussions with officials from the secretariat and security management, the matter was resolved and media were allowed in.

"It seems there was later instruction by an official from the Mayor's Parlour, who threatened to forcibly remove DA councillors and members of the media from the venue," said Graham.

"Armed Metro Police guards arrived at the booked committee room. Despite trying to resolve the matter with security management head Dumisani Bhengu, security forcibly blocked members of the media from entering the building. No one is able to show why or how this was decided and in accordance with what rule or by-law."

The SA National Editors Forum (Sanef) received reports that journalists waiting in the DA caucus room were approached by eight armed Metro Police officers, who asked them to vacate the premises because they apparently had no "permission" to be there.

"Police officers stated that they had to leave as it was an instruction from Mayor Zandile Gumede's office," Sanef said in a statement.

Meanwhile, journalists outside who wanted to go in questioned why they could not enter the building.

"They were manhandled by armed security guards, shoved and shown the door.  Journalists from both newspapers and the broadcast media were left shaken after the incident," said Sanef.

The press briefing was eventually held on the steps of the city hall in the presence of police officers.

Gumede's office said the mayor and municipality as a whole viewed the fourth estate's role as important in a democracy.

"The mayor further affirms her commitment to defend freedom of expression and to ensure that this freedom which many people fought for is enjoyed by all," her office said in a statement.

"Critically, we wish to reject reports that the mayor instructed metro police to mishandle and eject members of the media out of the City."

It said Gumede had not been aware of the briefing until she received calls and text messages from the ANC leadership and other leaders of political parties.

"To this end, the mayor has ordered an investigation to establish circumstances surrounding this incident. The report of the investigation will be shared with leaders of political parties in the municipality, members of the media and the public at large."

Sanef found the incident "disturbing" and backed calls for an investigation.

"Denying journalists entry into a press briefing is unconstitutional and denies the public the right to information," said Sanef executive director Kate Skinner.

"Police monitoring of a press briefing is also an intimidatory tactic that we find undemocratic. This takes us back to the dark days of the terror levelled against journalists by apartheid security police."

It said that KwaZulu-Natal was always a "hotspot" that targeted journalists in the run up to elections.

Anyone genuinely aggrieved by a story or actions taken by the media should follow the correct channels to address their grievances.

Graham said they were shocked but not surprised.

"City Hall is a public building where members of the media and public should be welcomed. It is not an ANC office or Zandile Gumede's private property where people can be refused at a whim."

She said the party would not be bullied.

Read more on:    da  |  media
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