As South Africa prepares to host the 2010 World Cup and “soccer fever” reaches its height, press freedom may be left on the benches. Police have recently subpoenaed two journalists working for private station e.tv to reveal their sources in a story about a scheme to commit violent crimes during the big event.
On January 16, e.tv interviewed two masked, self-confessed criminals who claimed they planned to steal from tourists in town for the Cup. The police and ruling African National Congress party were not pleased with the bad publicity. Now the police want to use apartheid-era legislation to force News Editor Ben Saidi and reporter Mpho Lakaje to reveal the identity and contact details of the two sources.
The reporters were also asked to give prosecutors the
unedited footage, the local press
reported. According to the press freedom group Media Institute of Southern
Africa, South Africa’s
ruling party called on e.tv to do what it said was the "honorable"
thing and withdraw future broadcasts featuring the interviews.
Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa accused the
broadcaster of “protecting criminals at the expense of South Africans. This is
beyond journalism,” he was quoted as saying in
local news reports. Meanwhile, National Police Commissioner Bheki Cele,
referred to e.tv as “crime kissers.”
between e.tv’s lawyers and the police is set to take place on Thursday.
The story, according to e.tv, was meant to raise
pertinent questions about the country’s security preparedness for the world’s
biggest sports tournament ever to take place in Africa.
The issue has raised considerable debate within
the public. In Johannesburg,
Media analyst and Wits University Professor Tawana Kupe dismissed the
journalists’ use of criminal sources. “We have two men, armed, probably with
unlicensed firearms, threatening the biggest event in the world,” Kupe was
quoted as saying in the local daily Sowetan
newspaper. “Surely their qualification as sources falls away.”
Raymond Louw, editor and publisher of the weekly
Southern African Report, disagreed. “Everybody
knows that there is serious crime in South Africa,” Louw told CPJ. “If
you are going to do this kind of a story as a journalist, you will have to do
it with criminals. They then become your sources, and that’s the work of
The channel’s communications manager, Vasili
Vass, has vowed that the station will explore every potential legal avenue
including, potentially, South
Africa’s Constitutional Court.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Bheki Cele's title has been changed.