The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) condemns threats made against Sunday Times journalist, Qaanitah Hunter. Hunter together with Jeff Wicks wrote a front-page story yesterday claiming there were plans afoot by ex-President Zuma and his allies to oust President Cyril Ramaphosa and these were discussed at a meeting in Durban last week. The Sunday Times published pictures showing that Zuma was in fact in Durban at that time.
Various ANC structures, including the ANC Women’s League, immediately released statements condemning the article arguing that it was false, damaging and aimed to specifically discredit the ANC in the lead up to the 2019 elections. The ANC denied the meeting even took place and asked for the withdrawal of the article.
SANEF believes that the ANC, and its various structures, obviously, have the right to criticize the media, point out inaccuracies and lay formal complaints with bodies such as the Press Council. However, we believe it is problematic when particular journalists are attacked on a personal level. The ANC Women’s League states in their press statement, “It is also not surprising that Qaanitah is part of such lies. It seems she always believes figment (sic) of her imagination and she is becoming an embodiment of gutter journalism”. But more serious than this are direct threats to journalists lives.
Hunter has alerted the public to the fact that she was sent threatening messages from the Secretary General of the ANC Women’s League, Meokgo Matuba, who sent a picture of a gun to Hunter’s cellphone. When asked if the picture was meant for her, Matuba responded by saying she doesn’t know who sent it as she shares a phone with many people. Hunter received this threat after calling Matuba with questions about the Zuma meeting.
SANEF strongly condemns what is a clear threat to this journalist despite the later apology. We believe these threats have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and access to information. This behaviour is particularly worrying in the lead up to our critical national elections in 2019. We call on the ANC and all political parties to use the correct channels for complaints and to specifically protect journalists and journalism - we believe that this is essential to the safeguarding of the health of our democracy.