Sanef to Malema: Engage with editors, not specific journalists, about perceived media bias

The South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) has raised concerns about attacks on journalists by EFF leader Julius Malema. 

The forum called on politicians and business leaders to refrain from calling out specific journalists if they take issue with their reporting and instead engage with their editors. 

This follows statements were made by Malema outside the state capture commission of inquiry on Tuesday afternoon, where he identified specific journalists who he accused of protecting Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan. 

Gordhan was testifying about his knowledge of state capture at the commission.

LIVE: Gordhan condemns political interference, attacks on family members of #StateCaptureInquiry witnesses

Outside, Malema accused Gordhan of being a "dog of white monopoly capital" and accused the media of ignoring allegations made by the EFF leader that Gordhan's daughter is in business with the state.

Malema said: "These crooks who are calling themselves journalists are sitting with those questions they have never asked Pravin. The deputy president of the EFF came here yesterday and spoke. Instead of repeating those quotes, they asked Pravin: 'Why is the EFF attacking you?' I want the EFF leadership from today and the membership to know we are not answering any question(s) from Tiso Blackstar, Daily Maverick, Scorpio, and which ask us about our wives, about our relatives, about anyone we know, until we ask Pravin these questions in a live interview."

Malema likened the media to the apartheid government's "Stratcom" disinformation campaign, and called Tiso Blackstar "hypocrites". He also accused the media of double standards in its treatment of the EFF versus its treatment of Gordhan and President Cyril Ramaphosa.

READ: Fighters, be ready- Malema gets ready to go to war with Pravin Gordhan

"Sanef notes the statements made by EFF Leader Julius Malema outside the venue where the state capture commission is underway. Malema singled out a number of senior journalists, accusing them of showing bias towards Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and President Cyril Ramaphosa.

"Malema was addressing EFF members gathered outside the building where Gordhan was testifying before the commission. Malema alleged that journalists 'know about Gordhan and his daughter's private business affairs' but fail to ask questions. Malema first threatened journalists asking his supporters to 'attend to them decisively'. Later he softened his stance saying, 'engage with them from a civilised point of view'. He also stated that the EFF will not be engaging with certain media houses and journalists until these journalists ask Gordhan the 'questions we want them to'," Sanef said in a statement. 

The forum said that while it "obviously" accepts that politicians may raise concerns about "real and perceived" biases in the media, they and business leaders should not single out specific reporters. 

"They should rather engage with the editors who employ the journalists. This is critical to protect the safety of journalists particularly in terms of the threats and cyber bullying that is unleashed on social media. Further, if people have concerns about published work or broadcast footage we encourage them to use the complaints channels already in place i.e. the Press Ombudsman and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission (BCCSA) or regulator, Icasa (Independent Communications Authority of South Africa)," Sanef said. 

The forum also raised concerns about the impact of statements which could undermine freedom of information and the safety of journalists in the run-up to the 2019 general elections.

"In the run-up to the 2019 elections Sanef accepts that the political terrain will be highly contested. We therefore call on all political parties to respect the role of the media and guard against making statements that could undermine freedom of expression and access to information – and also threaten the safety of journalists.

"Sanef will continue to monitor the media landscape and rigorously defend the constitutional principles of access to information and freedom of the media. However, we also don't believe the media is above the law. We will not be defending unethical journalism – we commit to calling this out wherever and whenever we see it."

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