The South African National Editors’ Forum’s (SANEF) court case against the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) starts today in the Pretoria High Court, sitting as the Equality Court.
SANEF and a number of individual journalists have taken the EFF to the Equality Court to argue that the latter has enabled an environment in which intimidation, harassment, threats and/ or assaults on journalists including the individual complainants, in this case, have been tolerated and in fact encouraged, creating a chilling effect on freedom of expression, access to information and freedom of the media in the country.
In response the EFF has argued that they do not know – and have no control over – the people responsible for the barrage of online harassment journalists receive daily. However, SANEF believes this is not correct. We believe that the EFF leadership have a duty to publically condemn the actions of their supporters when they harass and intimidate journalists and they have systematically chosen not to. We believe that this has created an environment within which EFF supporters, and others, have felt justified in threatening journalists.
We state in our court papers that we do not think journalists are above criticism – we encourage criticism. However, we oppose threats, harassment, intimidation and assaults. Further, we believe criticism should be tested and weighed up through channels such as the Press Council, the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa, ICASA and the Courts. We have noted that the EFF has specifically chosen not to subject their criticisms – including allegations that journalists operate as politicians – to these structures so that these criticisms can be tested and verified.
A further set of issues raised by the EFF is that the protection afforded by the Equality Act does not extend to journalists and the journalist profession. SANEF, however, contends that the Act does indeed make space for journalists to be protected by virtue of their occupation.
Finally, Mr Malema, President of the EFF, denies that his speech, made to his supporters outside the Zondo Commission in Johannesburg on 20 November 2018 – the trigger for this court case – constituted hate speech and incitement to violence against journalists. He claimed that in certain sections of his speech he had called for restraint, including in particular restraint in terms of women journalists. However, SANEF believes that he selectively and opportunistically quotes only a single section of his speech. We believe that in other sections he clearly called for violent action against journalists. Further, he named particular journalists who were then mercilessly trolled.
SANEF is hoping that this court case – together with other recent court cases fighting harassment of journalists e.g. Karima Brown’s case against the EFF – will begin to build and rebuild an environment where journalists can do their work i.e. to report without fear or favour and to hold the powerful to account.