The South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) has lodged a complaint in the Equality Court against the Economic Freedom Fighters following a barrage of abusive and dangerous threats against journalists in South Africa.
SANEF has approached the court in defense of media freedom and seeking protection of journalists against sustained intimidation and threats against journalists by EFF leader Julius Malema and his supporters.
We did not take this decision to institute legal action against the EFF lightly. We believe in the South African way of resolving disputes around a table, but Sanef has been unsuccessful in seeking a meeting with Mr. Malema and other EFF leaders about the remarks which we view as blatant hate speech.
Although the party agreed to meet with several private companies lately, the EFF has declined to meet SANEF before the national general elections scheduled for May 2019.
This has forced Sanef to approach the courts.
Sanef accepts that the political discourse in South Africa is robust and that the media may legitimately be criticised on public platforms, however the social media messages by members of the EFF leadership and its supporters has now crossed the boundaries of professional criticism, and can only be viewed as harmful incitement, demeaning and dangerous among other issues.
Sanef as a body representing editors and senior journalists from a variety of media outlets is outraged by the level of abuse, intimidation, harassment and hate speech hurled at individual journalists and editors and media professionals at large, in the wake of Mr. Malema's utterances in recent weeks.
Women journalists in particular have borne the brunt of an avalanche of insults leveled against them, particularly on social media. The journalists who have reported critically on the EFF have been called "whores", "witches", "bitches" and "cunts", and calls have been made for them to be raped and attacked by staunch EFF supporters.
Some of the people purporting to be EFF members have threatened to find their home addresses.
Further calls have been made by EFF supporters for the killing of certain journalists.
The EFF leadership's silence on this barrage of hatred has been deafening!
Sanef has now turned to the courts to ask for protection. We are requesting the Equality Court to interdict Mr. Malema and the EFF from:
- Intimidating, harassing, threatening or assaulting any journalist;
- Publishing personal information of any journalist;
- Expressly or tacitly endorsing the intimidation and harassment of journalists by supporters or followers on social media or on public platforms;
- Expressly or tacitly endorsing the publication of personal information by supporters or followers on public platforms or on social media.
Furthermore, we have also asked the court to direct Mr. Malema and the EFF to publicly denounce the harassment and abuse of journalists and to call on their supporters to cease intimidating and threatening journalists. We are also asking for an apology from Mr. Malema and the EFF to the individual journalists who have been targeted as well as to journalists in general, coupled with a recognition of the constitutionally protected role played by journalists in our society.
We remain gravely concerned about the weaponisation of social media and the chilling effect this may have on a generation of journalists who would not want to open themselves up to this level of abuse, by reporting on any EFF related matters.
Through his actions, Mr. Malema and his leadership have made targets of journalists whom they have named and against whom they have called for action. The EFF has created an environment enabling the harassment, intimidation and endangerment of journalists in South Africa.
Sanef remains of the view that should any person, organization or political party feel seriously and genuinely aggrieved by a story, then they should go through the correct channels in addressing their grievances - as the media is not beyond reproach.
We encourage South Africans to approach the BCCSA, the Press Council or seek their own legal remedies should they feel that stories published or broadcast about them or their organisations are not accurate and truthful and have not given them a right of reply among other issues.
The court papers are available on our website.