e.tv news editor Ben Said and reporter Mpho Lakaje appeared in the Johannesburg Magistrate's Court this morning, Monday, 25 January 2010, in connection with the private station's refusal to hand over what the police called ‘sensitive information' pertaining to the security of the state. But the matter has been indefinitely postponed to allow the ‘South African National Editors' Forum (SANEF) agreement' to be honoured.
e.tv, which said it was prepared to take the issue all the way to the Constitutional Court, had remained defiant until the end, prompting the police to use an apartheid-era legislation, section 205 of the Criminal Procedure Act, to force the station to hand over the ‘evidence' or face court action.
“All I can say is that I am delighted that the matter has been laid to rest - for now - and that the SANEF agreement will be honoured,” Said told reporters outside court four, where they were due to appear.
“This decision came up from a mutual agreement between our attorneys, the National Direction for Public Prosecutions (NDPP) and the SANEF,” he said, adding that some sort of mediation will now take place between the concerned parties to solve the issue.
Thabo Leshilo, Raymond Louw and Femida Mehtar of SANEF came to court to support the beleaguered and sad-looking journalists. A sombre atmosphere reigned outside the basement's court as representatives of all parties were locked in a meeting to negotiate a do-or-die agreement.
Mehtar told Bizcommunity.com: “We came here to support them - and it is very important for press freedom in this country.”
Leshilo said: “We welcome the postponement of this case as a good development as we believe that sometimes common sense prevails in solving cases such as these.
“Another journalist working for Daily Dispatch in the Eastern Cape is due to appear in court soon and we are confident that the same common sense will be used in his case.”
Consult with editors
Louw said SANEF entered an agreement with the Ministry of Justice not to use section 205 of the Criminal Procedure Act to prosecute journalists, but instead consult with the editors, who will then make representations on the merits of the case.
“We are glad that we could keep two journalists out of jail - for now.”
On 15 January this year, e.tv broadcast a news insert in which two alleged criminals were seen bragging that they will rob and kill tourists during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and they won't hesitate to shoot at cops.
e.tv's refusal to hand over the unedited footage and reveal the identities of those alleged criminals, has since angered the police elite, the minister and the ruling African National Congress, who branded e.tv as criminals and “crime kissers”.
“Of great concern”
William Bird, head of Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) told Bizcommunity.com last night: “The rapid manner in which the minister resorted to section 205 is [of] great concern. While e.tv may have exercised poor judgment in airing the item as it showed people who expressed intent to commit crime, it still seems to be inappropriate to go after the media using section 205.”
Bird added: “I think any item where people threaten to commit crime needs to be taken very seriously indeed by the government and to the extent that they responded swiftly is positive.
“But to suggest however that e.tv people are criminals as well is inaccurate and sensational in the same manner in which they accused e.tv of being sensational. As I noted above, the question for e.tv is whether they should have aired the item to begin with and how it served the public interest in doing so.”