The South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) has today [Tuesday] filed an urgent application against Black First Land First (BLF) and its founder, Mr Andile Mngxitama, at the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg.
Sanef has asked the court to interdict BLF and Mngxitama from harassing, intimidating, assaulting and threatening eleven senior journalists, editors and commentators that have been targeted for their reporting on state capture.
This follows a protest at the private house of Tiso Blackstar editor at large Peter Bruce last Thursday and the intimidation and harassment of Business Day editor Tim Cohen and political commentator Karima Brown at Bruce's house.
BLF has since threatened more editors and journalists with similar protests at their private homes and have referred to Brown, HuffPost SA editor-at-large Ferial Haffajee and Talk Radio 702 presenter Eusebius McKaiser as "askaris".
The other co-applicants are amaBhungane partner Sam Sole, News24 editor Adriaan Basson, Talk Radio 702 presenter Stephen Grootes, independent journalist Max du Preez, Eyewitness News (EWN) editor Katy Katopodis and EWN reporter Barry Bateman.
In her founding affidavit, Sanef chairperson Mahlatse Gallens says the harassment of these journalists is "part and parcel" of an orchestrated campaign.
"Each one of the journalists are senior professionals who in their area of reporting expertise have reported to the nation, objectively and independently on the political state of the South African economy and the corruption and maladministration consequent upon the alleged capturing of the national economy to further the interests of an elite few."
According to Gallens the purpose of the targeted harassment of these journalists is to keep allegations of corruption and state capture out of the public domain.
"The concerns around state capture are rife. Not a day goes by that we as South Africans are not faced with the pervasive impact of its corruption and maladministration. It is important that free and independent journalism is brought to bear on these reports because the media is also a catalyst of peace, dialogue and understanding, which will create the framework for the public to digest these reports within the bounds of the rule of law. If we are perceived in any way as falsifying information because we are being threatened, public debate becomes fractured, polarised and I daresay, volatile as a consequence of segments of society perceiving themselves as being misled," Gallens stated.
Sanef has asked the court to interdict BLF and Mngxitama from gathering outside the homes of these journalists; from threatening these journalists with violence on social media, and from inciting harm against the journalists in any public interviews.
"This court should be slow to countenance such violence and threats against the media because a free and pluralist media is vital to the democratic functioning of the Republic. This means that as journalists, publishers, editors, bloggers and other media actors we must be able to carry out our tasks without fear of intervention or reprisals – which requires adequate protection from violence, threats and pressures. This can affect how we work, which stories we decide to report and how we report on them. Furthermore, an attack on one journalist or media worker can have a chilling effect on others, particularly when perpetrators can act with impunity, as the respondents [BLF and Mngxitama] do," Gallens stated.
Our application has been served on BLF and Mngxitama, who will now have the opportunity to file answering papers before the matter is heard by the high court.