Sanef raises concern about fake news and cyber bullying

This weekend’s Sanef AGM was dominated by discussions on the threat of so-called fake news, cyber bulling and physical threats to journalists.

KwaZulu-Natal Judge President Achmat Japie talks at length about active citizenship in South Africa during the annual general meeting. Picture: Twitter/@SAEditorsForum.

DURBAN - KwaZulu-Natal Judge President Achmat Jappie told the annual general meeting (AGM) of the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) on Saturday that it was the responsibility of the media and the judiciary to safeguard South Africa’s open democracy.

“Without information, citizens cannot make informed decisions. If citizens can’t make informed decisions, then they are nothing more than a bunch of sheep,” Jappie said during an address on active citizenry.

Jappie emphasised the role of the media in disseminating information to citizens and the government. “If the media doesn’t report, how will the government know what the people are thinking? They will sit in a dark room and create their own reality.”

The AGM was dominated by discussions on the threat of so-called fake news, cyber bulling and physical threats to journalists.

Sanef expressed its outrage at the death threats received by investigative journalists Sipho Masondo (City Press) and Mzilikazi wa Afrika (Sunday Times) in recent months. The AGM agreed to urgently request a meeting with Police Minister Fikile Mbalula and the acting national commissioner of the SAPS, Lt-Gen Lesetja Mothiba, to discuss these and other threats to and the intimidation of journalists.

The AGM further identified the weaponisation of social media as an immediate threat to the credibility and safety of journalists. Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook are being used by nefarious forces to bully, harass and threaten professional journalists doing their jobs.

The forum encouraged journalists to report any online or physical abuse and harassment to it on Twitter (@SAEditorsForum), by contacting the Sanef office or through their title editors.

The AGM noted with concern the fact that South African photojournalist Shiraaz Mohamed has still not been released from captivity in Syria, where he was kidnapped in December. It urgently appealed to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, the Syrian government and other agencies involved to secure his safe release.

The AGM was informed of the decision by the Press Council’s chair of appeals, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, to allow Sanef to make presentations as amicus curiae during the appeal hearing on the Huffington Post hate speech matter. Sanef is of the view that the Press Ombudsman erred in making findings of hate speech and discrimination against HuffPost.

The AGM was briefed on a research report into the threats editors face from commercial interests. Sanef will begin to draw up an Editorial Charter for South African journalist in consultation with its members and the industry.