The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) has condemned the conduct of the Durban metro police in arresting and detaining a Sowetan reporter, Mhlaba Memela, while covering an incident in Durban’s central business district on Wednesday night.
Sanef said in a statement Memela came across an accident involving two vehicles in the city.
One of the cars had crashed into a shop, which passers-by were looting. Memela alerted the metro police and took photographs of the incident.
”When the police arrived they accused him of interfering in their investigations and of obstructing justice,” Sanef said.
”They refused to release him despite an appeal to the Durban city manager Michael Sutcliffe by the Sowetan Durban bureau chief, Mary Pappaya.”
Sanef has protested on several occasions recently about the police arresting reporters and photographers at crime scenes, pointing out that these appear to be attempts by the police to prevent journalists from reporting the incidents.
In all recent cases — except one that is pending — the cases have been thrown out of court by prosecutors as being baseless.
”Sanef regards such interference with journalists carrying out their duties as serious interference with the role of the media and demands that investigations be instituted and the guilty officers punished.”
Memela was charged with inciting a riot, failing to comply with police instructions and resisting arrest. He was released from Durban Central police station several hours after being arrested and he is expected to appear in the Durban Magistrate’s Court on Thursday.
eThekwini metro police spokesperson Superintendent John Tyala told said he could not comment on Memela’s arrest until he had all the details.
No cordon had been placed around the accident scene at the time that Memela was thrown into the back of the police van. When reporters attempted to intervene and asked for the policeman’s name, he declined to provide a name.
The uniformed policeman declined to show any badge of proof that the force number supplied was in fact his correct name.
The policeman was heard saying to a reporter leaving the scene: ”We will see each other another time.”
When asked if he could be quoted, he responded: ”As friends. Make sure you get that down. I know reporters can’t get down anything factual these days.”
The Mercury reported that Pappaya denounced the events. ”From the Sowetan‘s perspective, we find this totally unacceptable,” she said.
”The law clearly states that journalists should be allowed to do their jobs.
”To our knowledge the scene was not cordoned off and in light of that journalists are entitled to operate freely.”
”I think it’s a very sad situation when a journalist is arrested for something like this, and it is definitely something to worry about. What it means is that police do not understand the role and rights of the media, and the rules of engagement between police and journalists at crime scenes.
”This is not an isolated incident; journalists and photographers around the country have been arrested and detained purely because police do not understand the law.”
Sutcliffe ordered an inquiry into the matter, the Mercury reported.
”I’m certainly not happy as to how the events unfolded.
”I do want to listen to all sides and I have ordered a full report with sworn statements from the police, and we want to speak to members of the public and other journalists who witnessed the situation.
”Journalists have a special place in society and we as the municipality must allow them to do their work. It must be that if they interfere in any investigation, we have every right to step in.
”Journalists have every right to do their jobs and I am very concerned about the matter.” — Sapa