Editors concerned over Pikoli’s attack on media

The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) has expressed its concern at complaints against the media raised by National Director of Public Prosecutions Vusi Pikoli, deputy Sanef chairperson Thabo Leshilo said on Thursday.

Pikoli said in a statement earlier on Thursday that recent reportage by the media on the activities of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the Directorate of Special Operations (DSO) — the Scorpions — “is the cause for grave concern”.

“It is not only what is being reported and commented on that gives rise to these concerns, but also the manner in which certain members of the media are conducting themselves,” Pikoli said.

The director specifically held coverage of the Brett Kebble murder investigation as an example, saying it is distracting the DSO from carrying out its mandate “and creates the impression that the DSO is pursuing an improper agenda”.

It also creates negative public perception and undermines faith in the ability of the DSO to conduct investigations effectively and properly, he said.

Among concerns Pikoli raised were:

  • “questionable and often scurrilous allegations from questionable and invariably anonymous sources” put forward for comment;
  • comment being required at very short notice;
  • allegations published even when “debunked” by a DSO response;
  • journalists running “parallel investigations”;
  • no consultation with the DSO on what effect publishing certain details would have on ongoing investigations; and
  • “sensationalism rather than substance” appearing to be the order of the day.

Pikoli’s statement was short on detail, making it difficult to respond to the sweeping, serious allegations he makes against the media, Leshilo said.

“Sanef would like to assure the director that editors in South Africa are not in the business of thwarting investigations by the Directorate of Special Operations and the NPA or in any way ‘hindering the course of justice’, as he alleges,” Leshilo responded in a statement.

Sanef encouraged the director to raise specific complaints about specific journalists with their editors. “He is also welcome to take up these matters with the press ombudsman of South Africa.”

However, Leshilo said Sanef is pleased that the NPA recognises the vital role that the mass media play in society. “We would like to draw his attention to the fact that investigative journalism is essential to fulfil that role.”

He said Sanef has taken note of the suggestions put forward by the NPA about what would constitute fairness by journalists in their dealings with the Directorate of Special Operations and the NPA.

These suggestions included giving the DSO adequate time to respond to journalists, and the media desisting from running “parallel investigations”.

To this end, the editors’ body is keen to meet Pikoli and discuss any misunderstanding to improve relations and elucidate the concerns and requirements of journalists, Leshilo said.

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