Death threats, intimidation, harassment: Sanef slams attempts to target journalists

2019-07-26 20:03
(Sanef)

(Sanef)

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The South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) has condemned the harassment and intimidation of journalists after several incidents were reported this week.

In a statement released on Friday, the forum said it "understands that the Hawks are attempting, via SAPS (the SA Police Service) in KwaZulu-Natal, to force Daily Maverick journalist Marianne Thamm to reveal her sources."

The attempt to force Thamm to reveal her sources follows an article she penned in Daily Maverick which highlighted that Colonel WS "Welcome" Mhlongo was appointed acting Hawks head in KwaZulu-Natal despite being implicated by former National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) head Mzolisi Nxasana and former KwaZulu-Natal Hawks head Johan Booysen in alleged wrongdoing at the state capture commission of inquiry.

Colonel Mhlongo was implicated in witness testimony for allegedly tipping off criminals about the Hawks' investigations as well as for allegedly being asked to dig up dirt on Nxasana before the then prosecutions boss had even moved into his office.

Sanef said it understood the Hawks were investigating the alleged theft of documents and disclosure of information that the police said was meant for the use of the SAPS only. Daily Maverick disputes the allegation.

Mhlongo has since laid a charge at the Durban Central police station. As a result, an investigating officer contacted Thamm asking her to reveal her sources. Thamm will respond in an affidavit that she will not reveal her sources.

GroundUp article

In a separate incident, a police officer visited Daily Maverick offices in Johannesburg, the forum continued.

"A lieutenant asked for the whereabouts of a journalist, Aidan Lee Jones. The officer refused to reveal the reasons for the visit to managing editor Jillian Green, saying he would come back if he didn't come right elsewhere."

The visit appears to be related to a police investigation against GroundUp, Aidan Jones and Trevor Stevens after police indicated that they are investigating charges laid by Durban businessman Roy Moodley.

Jones authored an article for GroundUp exposing alleged corruption involving Moodley and his business interests in relation to the Passenger Rail Association of South Africa (Prasa).

News24 previously reported that Moodley, who is alleged to have paid former president Jacob Zuma a salary of R1m a month for four months into Zuma's first tenure as president in 2009, reportedly received questionable "fees" from a Prasa contractor.

Sanef said the police wanted to take warning statements from Stevens and Jones concerning the source of the published story. They were not, however, investigating the allegations regarding the content of the story.

Sanef meeting with police top brass

It has been noted that these incidents have taken place just as Sanef's office-initiated efforts are under way to schedule a meeting to discuss crucial aspects of engagement between the media and the country's law enforcement agencies with national police commissioner Khehla Sitole and possibly Minister of Police Bheki Cele.

The forum also noted "with grave concern" the SABC statement on the latest death threats directed at its journalists who are covering various issues across the country, including instances of alleged corruption as well as "political and corporate bullying" directed at its news service staff, with some of these happening on social media platforms.

Group executive for news and current affairs, Phathiswa Magopeni, said "the continuing intimidation of our journalists, who are committed to delivering untrammelled news and current affairs content to the South African public, is in itself a threat to the public mandate," News24 reported

Magopeni said these online threats were deliberately intended to weaken the SABC's ability to report "courageously, fairly and comprehensively on all matters of public interest".

Sanef added: "We have seen that when leaders in politics impinge on the rights of journalists, it does lead to their supporters to follow suit and this could have disastrous consequences and impact negatively on the work of journalists who are there to serve the public good."

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