Sanef concerned by increased criminal attacks on journalists ahead of elections

OPEN LETTER

The callousness of criminals targeting journalists continues as reporters, out in the field covering various stories, get attacked by thugs hellbent on disregarding any law or respect for the work the media does.

The South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) takes exception to these attacks as we grow increasingly concerned about this rising trend. Since the date of the local government elections was announced, our newsrooms have sent out reporters to various areas, with some of these proving to be dangerous as reporting crews get robbed and attacked.

In the latest attack, Eyewitness News reporters Thando Kubheka and Xan Dookey visited the Winnie Mandela section in Tembisa on an assignment to engage with the community and gauge its priority services ahead of elections. When they were packing up and ready to leave, a thief physically attacked Kubheka, kicking her in the process while robbing her of her cellphone. The thug then ran into a get-away car, which sped off.

Last Thursday, an SABC crew, all women, were held hostage in Buffelshoek village outside Acornhoek, Mpumalanga, where they fortunately escaped unharmed. Days earlier, a news reporter and camera operator from eTV were robbed at gunpoint in Khayelitsha, Cape Town.

Sanef is concerned it is increasingly getting difficult and dangerous for news editors to deploy journalists to communities deserving coverage as the country leads up to election day on November 1.

Mahlatse Mahlase, group editor-in-chief at Eyewitness News, said it was worrying that news outlets must consider hiring security personnel for journalists to go out in the field to cover community issues on the ground.

“Newsrooms have allocated resources to highlight the issues facing communities ahead of the elections. However, it is increasingly becoming dangerous for our reporters.”

“We appeal to communities to be the first line of defence for journalists where possible, understanding that we are under siege from criminals,” she said.

Sanef believes that the safety of journalists is intertwined with the general safety and wellbeing of communities whose stories they are out to cover. Lack of safety compromises the working environment of journalists as well as their livelihoods.

We call on law enforcement agencies to arrest and prosecute these criminals. These attacks place enormous physical and emotional burdens on journalists who are already exposed to severe constraints under a deadly COVID-19 pandemic. Without journalists focusing on the plight of communities, local government stories will go unreported.

The South African National Editors’ Forum is a non-profit organisation whose members are editors, senior journalists and journalism trainers from all areas of the South African media, and is not a trade union.

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