SA PEN Concerned Over Conduct of Authorities Towards the Press

22 Dec 2012

SA PEN (South African PEN Centre), an affiliate of International PEN, the international body representing poets, essayists, editors and novelists, expresses its deep concern over recent conduct by government leaders and the authorities against the Press.

After lodging a string of defamation actions against the Press since 2006, many of which have not been pursued, President Jacob Zuma has recently lodged claims for damages of R5-million each against the Sunday Times and the Sunday newspaper Rapport for alleged defamation on grounds that he had been humiliated and degraded and his reputation had been harmed by what they had published.

The complaint against the Sunday Times represents the second one over a cartoon by Zapiro (Jonathan Shapiro). The new claim shows Zuma and members of the tripartite alliance and the African National Congress Youth League preparing to rape justice, symbolically represented by a woman.

The cartoon was published on September 6th 2008, more than two years ago. It was the subject of a complaint to the Human Rights Commission which, however, rejected it and exonerated Zapiro of any misconduct, declaring that the subject was an issue in the public domain and was the subject of considerable public interest.

The complaint against Rapport followed publication of a picture showing Zuma posing with Afrikaans singer Steve Hofmeyr. Above the picture was a heading satirically naming him as the Zulu chief Dingaan. Zuma claimed the reference harmed his reputation because Dingaan pretended to be friendly to the Afrikaners while secretly plotting to murder them. This publication, too, was well over two years ago – indeed only a fortnight short of three years when the matter would have been prescribed by the courts.

The latest incident that has disturbed journalists is the alleged harassment and intimidation of a number of journalists on the staff of the Sunday Independent by police officers of the Crime Intelligence Division, allegedly seeking information about reporters who, in articles in the paper, detailed allegations of nepotism, corruption, fraud and mismanagement in the division.

The newspaper has stated its intention of complaining to the Inspector General of Intelligence, requesting an investigation into the alleged harassment and intimidation of the journalists. This alleged conduct is an abuse of police powers and unacceptable behaviour.

SA PEN supports such a probe.

The disturbing feature of all these events is that they coincide with the proposal put forward by the African National Congress that parliament should set up a media appeals tribunal, which journalists fear is intended to exercise control over the press. This suggests that there is a concerted campaign in government circles to intimidate the press, conduct which would contravene the constitution and which is condemned by SA PEN.

Signed 22/12/2010:
Anthony Fleischer – President, SA PEN
Margie Orford – Executive Vice-President, SA PEN
Geoff Haresnape – Vice-President, SA PEN
Ray Louw – Vice-President, SA PEN