Sanef goes ‘back to basics’ after attacks on journalists

An “extremely concerned” editors’ forum hopes that going back to “the basics of community relations” and the roles of journalists will help prevent more attacks on members of the press. 

Executive director of the South African National Editors Forum, Mathatha Tsedu, has confirmed that a meeting will take place with the South African Police Service on April 18 to address the concerning attacks on journalists, in which the police allegedly either assisted the assailants or failed to intervene. 

“A number of agreements were made around the behaviour of journalists as well as the behaviour of the police and we want to take these agreements forward [at the meeting],” Tsedu said. 

He also said that they also seek to clarify the allegations that the police did little to assist the journalists, adding that the police were meant to protect the public, which includes journalists. 

Last Saturday, following the funeral of anti-mining activist Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe in a village near Mbizana, in the Eastern Cape, two journalists from The Citizen, Nigel Sibanda and Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni, who were photographing the area around the village, were attacked and beaten with two community activists. 

Police allegedly arrived on the scene and did not assist or stop the assaults. They also took the journalists to the police station, not the hospital. 

On Friday, SABC journalist Jacques Steenkamp, who was investigating child prostitution in Mogale City, was accosted and kidnapped by alleged drug dealers who also run a prostitution ring. 

This also allegedly occurred in the company of police officers who assisted them. Steenkamp was held for a number of hours and only released after the group had withdrawn about R5000 from his bank account. 

Steenkamp reported that the case against the two Nigerians was postponed until April 11 for a bail application. 

On the same day, a Sowetan photographer, Tiro Ramatlhatse, was attacked while covering a fraud case at the Molopo Magistrates’ Court in Mmabatho, North West.

The case involved about R18 million of North West University money. Ramatlhatse was attacked inside the courtroom by spectators. He was rescued by a security guard. 

Tsedu said all the incidents had to be looked at individually because there was no clear reason why journalists were being attacked. 

“In some instances where people are looting for example, they attack journalists because they don’t want to be filmed … in other cases certain communities feel the media isn’t interested in their issues, so they attack.” 

A Z card (a foldable guide) outlining the rights and duties of police officers and of journalists was printed jointly by SAPS and Sanef last month. 

Tsedu said they were “extremely concerned” that these incidents occurred despite this. 

“We have to go back to basics of community relations and what our roles are,” he added. 

He also indicated that efforts would be made towards the training of journalists and distributing manuals on how to cover violent situations, what to expect and how journalists should conduct themselves. 

The SAPS spokesperson Vishnu Naidoo could not be reached for comment.

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