The SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) has raised the alarm over the treatment of journalists in Cape Town after the media was physically barred from entering a COVID-19-related court case.
The latest incident involved the police not letting the media into the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday to cover the appearance of 55-year-old Stephen Birch of Parow.
He was arrested for claiming in a video that COVID-19 test kits may be contaminated.
Birch was released on a warning to appear in court for a second time for contravening Regulation 11(5) of the National Disaster Management Act, but the media could not enter the court to cover the proceedings.
“Attempts to obtain a ruling from the court on whether the media were allowed to attend the session were unsuccessful. It is our understanding that neither the justice department nor the magistrate gave a directive to bar the journalists,” said Sanef.
In another incident on Tuesday night during the removal of refugees and asylum seekers in Cape Town, a metro police officer prevented photographer Guy Oliver from doing his job.
“They pushed him and demanded he operate from a distance. This was without any provocation.”
Oliver has laid a complaint with the City of Cape Town.
Sanef was also concerned that several journalists were not allowed to enter the Strandfontein sports field, which is a public facility being used by the City to shelter homeless people in tents.
Journalists need prior permission, and Sanef feels this will make it difficult to monitor the situation and hold officials to account as they could “stage manage” visits.
“Sanef wishes to state that the barring of the media in covering all these cases is completely contrary to the Covid-19 regulations that specifically allow journalists to operate as essential services.”
It called on journalists to be vigilant and report similar incidents to its office.
Sanef also impressed on Justice Minister Ronald Lamola to inform his counterparts in the security cluster that all state organs needed to protect journalists from any form of harassment when doing their job.
It is also still trying to set up a meeting with the City’s top security official, Richard Bosman, about an incident involving Newzroom Afrika’s Athi Mthongana while she was covering the removal of refugees from around the Central Methodist Mission on Greenmarket Square.