The South African Editors Forum (Sanef) squared off against the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) at the Equality Court in Pretoria on Monday, in an attempt to hold the party liable for promoting harassment against journalists.
Sanef and a group of journalists are attempting to stop EFF leader Julius Malema from threatening journalists on social media and to publicly apologise to journalists who have allegedly been harassed.
The matter kicked off on Monday, with advocate Daniel Berger arguing that social media comments from Adriaan Basson and Pauli van Wyk, among others, led to them being threatened due to utterances made by the EFF.
Van Wyk faced abuse on Twitter after Malema called her “Satan” in a tweet. He also refused to condemn a Twitter user who threatened to kill Basson, tweeting: “We won’t do it”. The Twitter user identified himself as an EFF supporter. Berger said that Malema’s refusal to condemn the death threat was an “endorsement of violence”.
Just opened criminal case of intimidation against EFF supporter @tsk_tsheko for threatening to kill me. @SAPoliceService very professional & I will assist them in tracking down suspect. No condemnation yet from EFF. @SAEditorsForum @TeamNews24 pic.twitter.com/swtQSuwt3y
— Adriaan Basson (@AdriaanBasson) December 14, 2018
Berger argued that a torrent of abuse and threats of violence had resulted in journalists toning down on their reporting due to the EFF comments, which could be viewed as enabling their supporters.
He said the party’s statements created an enabling environment for attacks on certain journalists, who were now vulnerable to harassment.
The court heard how the freedom of the press and the protection of journalists were necessary due to reporters’ role in democracy. Berger said Julius Malema’s statements constituted hate speech and should be declared as such.
The EFF argued they could not be held liable as they did not know and had no control over the people responsible for harassing journalists.
Sanef criticised this view, as they believed the party’s statements had created an environment where supporters felt justified in threatening journalists.
This came after Malema defended comments he made outside the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture in November last year, making comments Berger described as a “call to violence”.
Berger also mentioned comments on “the Ramaphosa defence force”, who Malema called on in a tweet to “attend to decisively”.
The case continues.