Intimidation and bullying of journalists by authorities – including the Hawks – is on the rise prompting an outcry from the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef).
In a statement on Friday, Sanef said a number of incidents have taken place at a time when the forum was trying to schedule a meeting to discuss crucial aspects of engagement between the media and the country’s law enforcement agencies.
“Sanef understands that the Hawks are attempting, via South African Police Service (SAPS) in KwaZulu-Natal, to force Daily Maverick journalist Marianne Thamm to reveal her sources,” the statement said.
In her June 18 article, Thamm wrote that Colonel WS “Welcome” Mhlongo with the KwaZulu-Natal Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, who has been implicated in Zondo Commission testimony for allegedly tipping off criminals about the directorate’s investigations, had been appointed acting Provincial Commander of the Serious Organised Crime unit in the province.
After the article was published, a charge was laid at the Durban Central police station by Colonel Welcome Mhlongo and an investigating officer later contacted Thamm asking her to reveal her sources.
As a result, the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation – better known as the Hawks, which targets organised crime, economic crime, corruption, and other serious crime – are investigating the alleged theft of documents and disclosure of information that the police say was meant only for the use of the SAPS.
In a separate incident, Sanef expressed its concern regarding a visit to the Daily Maverick offices in Johannesburg this week by a police officer. They said the lieutenant asked about the whereabouts of a journalist, Aidan Lee Jones.
“The officer refused to reveal the reasons for the visit to managing editor Jillian Green, saying he would come back if he didn’t come right elsewhere,” said Sanef.
In another incident, police were investigating charges laid by Durban businessman Roy Moodley against journalists, Aidan Jones from GroundUp and Trevor Stevens, who works for The Citizen.
“Jones wrote an article for GroundUp exposing alleged corruption involving Moodley in relation to the Passenger Rail Association of South Africa. The article was republished in The Citizen and Daily Maverick,” said the statement.
Sanef said the police wanted to take warning statements from Stevens and Jones concerning the source of the story.
“It is unacceptable that Moodley appears to be using the SAPS to fight his personal battle instead of approaching the press ombudsman (or the courts) to independently assess his grievances,” said the statement.
Group Executive News and Current Affairs Phathiswa Magopeni said: “These acts go against its constitutionally guaranteed freedom to perform its duties without hindrance. These are deliberately intended to weaken our ability to report courageously, fairly and comprehensively on all matters of public interest”.
– African News Agency