Sanef horrified at attack on journalists

The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) condemns in the strongest terms the apparently politically motivated attack on a journalist in the Eastern Cape this week.

This comes after a spate of worrying attacks on journalists who were reporting on strikes in the Western Cape in recent weeks and the intimidation of a reporter covering a protest at the University of Fort Hare by a policeman on duty there.

Together, these incidents indicate an uncalled for hostility towards the media and journalists who are carrying out their professional duties in keeping the public informed.

Zolile Menzelwa, a reporter on the Queenstown weekly The Rep, suffered injuries to his face and ankle after two assailants knocked him down, stood on his chest and dropped a brick on his ankle - leaving him bruised but not seriously hurt. The incident happened on Sunday evening as he walked close to his home from a private engagement.

The two men, whom he did not recognise, warned him to stop writing “about the mayor”, which pointed to a political motivation for the assault. Menzelwa and his editor, Sonja Raasch, are not sure whether the attackers were referring to the recently ousted mayor, who is linked to about R7 million in missing funds, or to his replacement, who has promised to tackle corruption.

The attack was reported to police and a case number was allocated, but no charge was laid because he could not identify his attackers.

Sanef is encouraged by the fact that Menzelwa’s employers - Times Media Group - is beefing up security at his home and has committed to raising the matter formally with the ANC. As Sanef, we are concerned that the attacks on South African journalists will impact on society’s rights to receive information necessary to help them exercise their democratic rights.

In Alice, a Captain Godulawana threatened Theo Jeptha, a photographer from Foto24, saying: “I will blow you up.” Jeptha was on a freelance assignment to cover Fort Hare student protests being monitored by police. The policeman ripped Jeptha’s camera from his hands, saying he did not want to be photographed.

This action was in total violation of the media’s freedom to report - and photograph - public protest. A case of intimidation was laid.

Globally, the Committee to Protect Journalists said that 2012 was a very bad year for press freedom as it was the highest number of journalist attacks since 1990. About 70 reporters were killed and 232 imprisoned - a 43% increase from the previous year. According to the International Press Institute (IPI), the number of journalists killed in 2012 was 133, and IPI reports that 20 have been killed so far this year.

Sanef is fully behind Menzelwa and The Rep in their publication of news in the public interest and encourages them not to buckle under pressure from those who seek to use illegal and totally unacceptable ways to keep the truth unknown.

Sanef also believes that, if the mayor referred to is of the view that his position is being used by people unknown to him, acting without his consent, he too has a responsibility to speak out against this barbaric attack on Menzelwa.