Journalists Face Violence, Intimidation in Fight Against Censorship

Former employees fighting the South African state broadcaster in the Constitutional Court have come forward saying they are being targeted with violence and death threats.

The “SABC Eight” were employees of the South African Broadcasting Corporation, until they complained about the censorship of protests.

The SABC fired Lukhanyo Calata, Thandeka Gqubule, Foeta Krige, Vuyo Mvoko, Busisiwe Ntuli, Krivani Pillay, Jacques Steenkamp and Suna Venter for publicly criticizing the broadcaster’s policy of not showing footage of protests where there is destruction of public property.

Protest is critical to a functioning democracy. Banning reporting on protests that turn violent is censorship of constitutionally-protected rights to free expression, association, and speech.

In July, the SABC Eight won a wrongful dismissal fight against the SABC, and seven of eight of them were reinstated in their positions. In late October, the journalists launched a case at the Constitutional Court to force Parliament to hold a public inquiry into the broadcaster’s censorship.

Now, they say someone is trying to intimidate them into dropping their case.

The Sunday Times in Johannesburg revealed last week the journalists are “living in fear” after a month of violence.

The newspaper outlined the dramatic events that have happened over the course of the last month:

“On October 6 Venter’s house was broken into and trashed. Nothing was stolen;

On October 8 executive TV producer Busisiwe Ntuli’s house was broken into;

On the same day a caretaker working for executive radio producer Foeta Krige was held up at gunpoint during a robbery at Krige’s home;

On October 15 Venter was shot at with ceramic bullets while driving home at night. She later received a text message that read: ‘Next time won’t miss’;

On November 2 a car tried to ram Ntuli while she was driving;

On November 3 the group’s lawyer, Aslam Moosajee, received a text message offering him a bribe to drop the case, then threatening ‘or the girl dies’;

On November 8, when Venter was already in hiding, Moosajee received a text message that said: ‘The girl looks nice in black today. You think you can hide her but you can’t. Drop the case’; and;

On November 9 the electric wires on the brakes of three of Venter’s car wheels were cut.”

This is in addition to threatening text messages regularly received as far back as August, after the original court case.

According to the Sunday Times, one message read: “I swear I will start by killing the girl just for fun and even after you two your black friends if they are traitors (sic).”

Police say they can’t trace the messages, because the phones used to send them are pre-paid.

The SABC says it has nothing to do with the intimidation.

The Constitutional Court has received files from both the journalists and the broadcaster, but has not set a date for hearing the case.

 

This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.