Govt tells officials: Don’t talk to unaccredited journalists

They have also been instructed, according to a letter leaked to the Weekly Mail, w report to the Bureau any approaches made to them by foreign correspondents.  The Bureau would then be able to inform the department of the "attitude of the journalist and his/her newspaper'. It would also allow them, according to the leaked letter, to stop "unlawful" work done by journalists "under false pretences" and to monitor accredited journalists. This move has serious consequences for journalists who have been refused Bureau accreditation.

The Bureau has, without giving any reason, refused to recognise a number of South Africans who work for the foreign press – usually the most outspoken or critical of the government. However, it also signals a new vigilance towards the "attitudes" of even those journalists that are accredited. The instruction to government departments was contained in a letter sent by the Interdepartmental Liaison Forum (ILF), an umbrella body of liaison officials which facilitates contact between all government departments; from the letter, it appears to work closely with the Bureau for Information.

The Weekly Mail also has a copy of a letter written by Minister of Information Stoffel van der Merwe on the subject. "It happens increasingly that foreign journalists and mainly television teams visit the RSA under false presences to write unlawful reports and compile TV programmes," Van der Merwe's letter states.

"To deal with the situation, it would be appreciated if no cooperation is given, or interviews given to any journalist or correspondent representing the foreign media who is not in possession of a Bureau for Information accreditation card … ." "If you or members of your department are asked to co-operate with or give interviews by representatives of the foreign media (including South African citizens) who do not have the accreditation cards, you are cordially asked to report the circumstances immediately to the Bureau.

"You are also cordially asked to let the Bureau know of any request for interviews or co-operation from journalists, including South African citizens who represent the foreign media (including those who are accredited with the Bureau) to let the Bureau know, so that you can be informed of the attitude of the particular journalist and the media he represents and the activities of foreign journalists can be monitored more efficiently … "In this way, we shall hopefully limit more successfully the illegal activities of foreign media and control the legal action of accredited correspondents efficiently," he said.

This article originally appeared in the Wekkly Mail.

 

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Pat Sidley
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