South Africa: SANEF Concerned About Attacks by Security Forces During Day One of the COVID-19 Lockdown

South African Police shut down spaza shops in Govan Mbeki Township in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) expressed concerns by the number of attacks and harassment of journalists during their coverage in the field, on day one (27 March 2020), of the lockdown.
SANEF has received several reports from journalists of having their equipment removed and of threats and harassment from law enforcement officers – both by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and the South African Police Services (SAPS).
The following cases were brought to our attention:

  • A News24 journalist was shot at in Yeoville, Johannesburg.
  • A Weekend Argus photographer had her cellphone confiscated in Capricorn Park, Cape Town.
  • Further, there have been a number of reports to the media of alleged assaults on citizens.

SANEF understands that the pandemic - that has taken the life of one South African (initial Health Ministry reports said two) and stands at 1170 infections - warrants firm action from the army and police to ensure lockdown restrictions are adhered to. However, we believe it is important that all security force members also strictly adhere to our president’s instructions against excessive force and abuse – and that as regards journalists, they are clearly informed about our right, as designated essential services workers, to be on the streets for our work. The media has a critical role to play to responsibly inform and educate the public about the spread and containment of the virus.

SANEF has raised the matter with the SAPS and senior officials have indicated that the attacks on journalists are unacceptable - and will not be tolerated. They will inform their troops and members.

SANEF is working with international media organisations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and local media NGO, Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) to monitor the situation.

From our side we are satisfied that the media has complied with regulations and that journalists in the field are equipped with the relevant press cards and permits to allow their free movement to cover all areas of the country.
Finally, SANEF calls on media organisations to make sure their staff are kitted with the relevant protective gear. We refer all media organisations to the safety tips included on our SANEF website Further, we call on all media organisations to ensure, wherever possible, that they provide trauma counselling for journalists. SANEF notes the long term damaging effects of untreated trauma. SANEF will be compiling relevant information for our website.

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