‘We are of the view that a friend of a criminal is a criminal,” said Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa on Thursday afternoon in Pretoria after the ministry announced that the police have arrested one of the suspects who threatened to rob and kill Soccer World Cup tourists on e.tv last week.
Mthethwa has subpoenaed two of the station’s journalists in a move to force them to reveal the identity of the men who made their criminal intentions known in an interview aired last Friday.
The suspect was arrested in the early hours of Thursday in the RDP [Reconstruction and Development Programme] settlement of Tshepisong near Kagiso on the West Rand.
Also present at the National Press Club’s media briefing was police National Commissioner Bheki Cele, deputy police minister Fikile Mbalula and the Hawks’ Anwa Dramat.
Cele lashed out at e.tv for airing the footage and for protecting the identities of the ‘criminals”.
‘e.tv is a crime kisser and have expressed themselves as such. My question to them is that would they have protected their sources if they threatened to kill, rob and rape their mothers?” said Cele.
‘If these are the types of people that e.tv is fraternising with, then e.tv has sold out … they have sold the South African society to criminals,” he added.
Earlier in the week, Hawks spokesperson Musa Zondi told the Mail & Guardian that there was a slight suspicion that Lucky Phungula, the e.tv source who earlier this week committed suicide, took part in the video footage.
‘We know one way or the other that [Phungula] was involved in this crime but we don’t know to what extent,” Zondi said.
Despite calls from the media fraternity to excuse eNews editor Ben Said and reporter Mpho Lakaje, who were recently served with subpoenas under the Criminal Procedure Act’s section 205 for protecting the identities of the men in the video — the police are pressing ahead with investigations.
Said and Lakaje are scheduled to appear in court on Monday, unless they hand over unedited footage, the names and contact details of the men they interviewed, as well as information about the firearms displayed in the programme.
Issuing a subpoena against eNews infringed media freedom and freedom of speech, the South African Press Council said on Thursday.
“The police, using laws that existed under apartheid, are seeking to circumvent the journalists’ right to report without fear and the public’s right to know by issuing this subpoena,” said council vice-chairperson Bewyn Petersen in a letter published in Business Day.
“When the story broke I found myself hoping that e.tv would resist the pressure from the police … I am dismayed that I have not seen anyone in government, including the opposition, oppose this action.
“If the police are successful, it may prevent journalists from having access to similar situations in the future and may even endanger their lives. Should this happen, we will lose one of our most fundamental rights — the right to know – and it is our right to decide for ourselves,” Petersen said.
E.tv has declined, on legal advice, to say how it plans to respond to the subpoenas.