Sanef heads to Equality Court to protect journalists, EFF to oppose bid

The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) is taking the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and their leader Julius Malema to the Equality Court. The party has promised to oppose Sanef’s court bid.

This move follows the continued harassment of journalists over social media and in public. Sanef chair Mahlatse Mahlase told eNCA that heading to the courts was a last resort. She said Sanef has asked to meet with Malema several times, adding that Sanef had written to the party and approached EFF over Twitter.

Sanef, which represents senior journalists and editors in South Africa, wants an end to the harassment and abuse of journalists and an apology from Malema and the EFF.

In a statement released on Wednesday, Sanef said it was approaching the court in “defence of media freedom and seeking protection of journalists against sustained intimidation and threats against journalists by EFF leader Julius Malema and his supporters.”

According to the statement, the conduct of the party and its leader “constitutes hate speech” and “unjustified violation of Section 16 of the Constitution which protects freedom of expression, and of the press and other media.

In a founding affidavit, Sanef has asked the court to interdict the respondents (the EFF and Malema) from intimidating, harassing, threatening and assaulting the complainants and other journalists.

Sanef has also asked that the respondents do not “expressly or tacitly” endorse the publication of personal information, and it should denounce the harassment and abuse of the complainants.

The complainants in the matter are Sanef, Tiso Blackstar’s Ranjeni Munusamy, The Daily Maverick’s Pauli van Wyk, News 24’s Adriaan Basson, Max du Preez and Eyewitness News’s Barry Bateman.

The court application follows a November 20 press briefing outside the commission of inquiry into state capture — chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — in Parktown, Johannesburg where Malema addressed his supporters.

READ MORE: Malema hits out at journalists

Malema called for action against enemies of his party and “the revolution”. The enemies, according to Malema, were President Cyril Ramaphosa, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, “white monopoly capital” and several members of the media who formed part of his so-called “Ramaphosa Defence Force”.

His address was televised by eNCA and SABC, and his statements were disseminated over social media through his party’s Twitter account. As a result, according to Sanef’s founding affidavit, “the conduct of the respondents in making inflammatory utterances and failing to condemn the resultant attacks on journalists has created an environment enabling the abuse, intimidation and harassment of journalists.”

Journalists, the affidavit continues, “are choosing not to report critically on the EFF, because they are aware they may be subjected to personal attacks and fear for the safety of themselves and their families.”

Speaking to eNCA, Mahlase said, “We cannot allow a situation where journalists are harassed into silence.”

“The first sign that democracy is going to fail is when journalists are unable to do their work. We must act when threats to our Constitution and democracy arise,” she added.

International body Reporters Without Borders has condemned Malema’s use of threats and insults against journalists, stating “inciting hatred against journalists is unworthy of a political leader”.

Munusamy and Du Preez have experienced physical harassment in public; while all the responding journalists have reported harassment over Twitter.

In response to Sanef’s court application, the EFF said it was based on “a sick, self-preoccupied attempt to suppress criticism of embedded journalism and the media.”

The EFF has defended its leader’s statements from November in a press statement released on Wednesday, claiming that the complainants in the matter were “no longer engaged in independent, non-partisan and neutral journalistic pursuit.”

In the same statement, the party denied that any EFF leader or party structure has “ever called on violence with the media or journalists.”

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