Pieermaritzburg - KwaZulu-Natal police are at the centre of a wide-scale public relations exercise in what appears to be a well-orchestrated media blackout to keep rampant crime out of the news.
This as the police, with a management beset by scandals of corruption and ineptitude, have faced a lashing over rises in contact crimes including murder, house robberies and business robberies.
A Weekend Witness analysis revealed a well-oiled communications machine operating under the unwritten dictum that bad news be quashed so that stories of success take centre stage.
A look at the communication patterns of the police media centre over a month revealed that 75% of all information pushed into the public domain pertains to arrests and the sentencing of offenders.
During this same period, not a single press statement pertaining to incidents of violent crime was disseminated unless some police success was attached to it.
The police hit back, insisting their job was to fight crime and not play reporter on the fringes.
Two months ago, national police management was left embarrassed after a claimed R3bn methaqualone bust was downscaled to R20m.
At the time, it was hailed as the biggest drug haul in South African history.
A senior crime intelligence official told Weekend Witness that since the blunder, there had been a blackout on drug raids.
“We have raided drug labs in Amanzimtoti and in Westville and none of it has hit the papers. There was an official instruction not to give this information to the media after what happened when the figures changed so dramatically,” he said.
A retired senior policeman police always ask the community to be their eyes and ears.
“How can they do this when they don’t know what’s going on in their communities?”
He said he also felt it was ridiculous that journalists now had to get all their crime information via the provincial media office.
“It’s like a return to apartheid days when all police communication was routed via Pretoria. The SA National Editors’ Forum [Sanef] must also share the burden of sorting this out.”
Police spokesperson Major Thulani Zwane said the police did not have the capacity to issue a media statement on every crime that is committed.
“With regards to media enquiries, we expect journalists to do their own spade work as reporters and not expect us to do their ground work.
“The primary function of the police is to fight crime and therefore we cannot afford to spend more manpower and resources on media issues than we already have. We will always endeavour to assist journalists to the best of our abilities within the confines of our restraints.