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SACOMM denounces ongoing harassment of journalists at UJ

The South African Communication Association (SACOMM) has issued a statement noting its concern about the ongoing intimidation, harassment and abuse of both professional and student journalists.

SACOMM is the professional representative association, which represents academics and scholars in South Africa, working within the fields of the communication sciences, including media studies, journalism, film, corporate communication and communication in general.

As the collective of academics who are responsible for the training, mentoring and education of many of our country’s journalists, communications practitioners and media workers, we are deeply concerned.

Police, private security intimidation

Most recently, two SAPS officers visited University of Johannesburg (UJ) student journalist, Magnificent Ndebele (20) in the early hours of 10 November 2016. According to Ndebele, the officers confiscated his equipment, including his cellular phone and laptop, without providing a warrant. Ndebele was on the scene earlier this month when private security officials shot fellow student, Kelvin Baloyi, at point-blank range. Baloyi died on the scene. Ndebele recorded images during this incident.

SACOMM denounces ongoing harassment of journalists at UJ
© Brian Odwar via Pixabay

Disturbingly, this is not the first time that Ndebele has been subject to police intimidation. During his reporting on the student protests at UJ in recent months, he has been threatened with violence and with his life, from both private security officials as well as SAPS officers on various occasions.

Ndebele is not alone. Journalists have frequently reported being barred from UJ campuses by private security officials or ‘bouncers’. This also follows a deplorable incident in September, when UJ private security guards attacked a group of journalists who had identified themselves as media workers, beating them with batons and pepper-spraying them, while the journalists sat on the ground. Video footage reveals how UJ private security guards violently assaulted filmmaker Sipho Singiswa without provocation.

After the September attack on journalists at UJ’s Doornkloof and Kingsway campuses, the association wrote to Ihron Rensburg, vice-chancellor and principal, University of Johannesburg, endorsing Sanef’s statement on the incident.

Violation of the Constitution

At this time, and as per the collective SACOMM position on the crisis in higher education, we are deeply concerned about this ongoing infringement on freedom of expression and media freedom rights. This is unacceptable in a democracy, and is a violation of Section 16 of the Constitution.

We also remind SAPS that your own rules prohibit you from treating the media with disrespect or with violence. SAPS Standing Order 156 instructs you to treat all media representatives with respect, courtesy and dignity even when provoked. You may not delete a journalist’s photographs or footage, and you may not confiscate equipment without a warrant – this is against the law. Anyone, in any open public space, is allowed to photograph you or any incident, which may be occurring on the scene, and you may not stop him or her.

As journalism and media educators, we deplore the actions of SAPS in their unlawful confiscation of a student journalist’s equipment and what is clearly targeted harassment of the student journalist after he captured scenes of a crime. This is a blatant infringement of the student’s personal rights, and media freedom rights in general.

It is crucial to our country that the media sector is allowed to do its work and perform its duties without fear or intimidation. For more information, click here.

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