Sanef slams police 'harassment' of journalists at former Durban mayor Zandile Gumede's court appearance

2020-01-16 13:03
Zandile Gumede. (Picture: File)

Zandile Gumede. (Picture: File)

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The South African National Editors' Forum (SANEF) has condemned an incident where a SAPS officer allegedly barred journalists from using electronic devices, including laptops and cameras, inside the Durban Commercial Crimes Court during the appearance of former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede on Wednesday. 

Gumede is accused of using her political status to influence the appointment of senior eThekwini personnel responsible for supply chain management, as well as legal matters and human resources. She and her co-accused are also implicated in a R389m tender contract. The case was postponed to April 16.

In a statement on Thursday, SANEF said it had been informed that a police officer told journalists they were "not allowed to use the devices that they needed to report the story with as tools of their trade".

According to SANEF, the presiding magistrate had made no order barring journalists from using electronic devices and members of the public were allowed to use their phones throughout the court proceedings.

News24 journalist Kaveel Singh said: "I was told if I did not switch [off] my laptop, I would be kicked out of the courtroom. He [the police officer] said he could kick me out right now and that I don't have the right to be there. I was asked to speak to the prosecutor, who agreed that we could [use] our equipment.

"With regards to the behaviour of SAPS members, SANEF believes it is time that Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola impress upon his counterparts in the security cluster that all state organs seek to protect journalists and stop this gross violation of the Constitution," Sanef said.

"The prevention of journalists from covering court proceedings infringes on the right of freedom of expression enshrined in Section 16 of our Constitution. Section 16 states that everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes 'freedom of the press and other media' and 'freedom to receive or impart information or ideas'.

"Therefore, the protection and encouragement of the free press, freedom of speech and the free flow of information are cornerstones of our Constitution's Bill of Rights that must be mainly observed by SAPS members."

Sanef quoted former chief justice Sandile Ngcobo, who addressed the organisation in Cape Town in 2010, saying it is "the principle of open justice that brings the judiciary and the media together".

"It is this principle that requires courts to open their doors to the media so the media can observe how the judicial system functions and the extent to which courts uphold the Constitution and the law and administer justice to all without fear, favour or prejudice.

"We need the media to help the public to hold us accountable for our judgments and jurisprudence and operation of the courts. We also need the media to inform the public about our work, so that they can have confidence in their judicial system. But importantly, we in the judiciary need the media to treat us with respect, and through responsible and honest reporting, to offer us the protection and support necessary to safeguard our independence," Ngcobo is quoted as saying. 

SANEF said it had been engaging the Magistrates' Commission since 2018 regarding difficulties faced by members of the media concerning access to magistrate's courts.

"It is due to inconsistent approaches by different magistrates to questions of the media gaining access to courts where, on some occasions, media representatives were permitted to be in court while on others, they were asked to leave court without a valid reason.

"Similarly, there were inconsistencies in dealing with requests to photograph, record or broadcast proceedings. In the spirit of ensuring that magistrates work with the media and that both sides respect each other, Sanef will table these issues before the relevant authorities, including the Judge President."

Sanef said it believed that a frank dialogue with the Magistrates' Commission was the only method to resolve these misunderstandings, "so that they never devolve into acrimonious disputes".

Provincial SAPS spokesperson Brigadier Jay Naicker referred News24 to the Hawks. 

KwaZulu-Natal Hawks spokesperson Captain Simphiwe Mhlongo said he was not aware of the incident. 

- Compiled by Riaan Grobler

Read more on:    sanef  |  zandile gumede  |  durban  |  courts  |  media

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