The New Year has barely started and South African journalists are already under fire. TheMediaOnline looks into the situation.
Last year, in late November, a local news agency journalist had his car torched during political unrest in KwaMashu in KwaZulu-Natal. The South African Press Association (Sapa) reported that the car was set alight during a visit by National Freedom Party leader Zanele KaMagwaza-Msibi to the Inkatha Freedom Party stronghold. Two other journalists from other media houses were inside the Sapa reporter’s car when it was stoned before being set alight.
This was at the end of November. One would have hoped this would not become a regular ocurrence. But not even two weeks into the New Year, the same situation pesented itself in the Western Cape, where journalists covered the labour unrest by farm workers.
On 11 January, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) reported that two journalists from the Cape Times, Xolani Koyana and Aw Cheng Wei, and Henk Kruger, a photographer from Independent Newspapers, were injured during the violent farm worker protest.
Kruger was hit in the leg when the police fired rubber bullets in a bid to control the crowd.
Koyana and Wei had their vehicle stoned, overturned and torched. The pair managed to escape, but sustained various injuries in the process.
The following week, striking farm workers turned on the national broadcaster. The car in which three SABC journalists were travelling, was stoned and the back window broken. The incident happened at Stofland informal settlement where the journalists were interviewing striking farm workers.
Misa reported that radio journalist Bulelani Phillip was witness to several close shaves with violence.
“A lot of them recognised us as journalists from last week and clearly declared our vehicles shouldn’t be touched. As we continued on our journey, one of the men started shouting that we are informers [working with the police] and as we drove by, they started throwing stones at the vehicle. That’s when we realised we were in trouble and then we sped off and went to a place of safety,” Phillip was quoted as saying.
Misa’s Programme Specialist for Media Freedom Monitoring & Research, Levi Kabwato, urged journalissts to exercise extreme caution while covering the Western Cape strike.
“We further call upon those co-ordinating the strikes to respect the duties of journalists and to guarantee their safety for the remainder of the strike action,” he said.
The South African Editors Forum (Sanef) called for swift action against the perpetrators.
“Sanef is also concerned at the wider chilling effect the attack can have on journalists assigned to cover such strikes. Some may be subject to fears that entry to an area of strike unrest could result in more attacks in which they run the risk of being harmed or seriously injured,” it said.
The Global Post website reported recently tht a record number of journalists were killed world-wide last year. Quoting figures provided by the International Press Institute’s Death Watch, it said a total of 119 journalists were killed in the line of duty. This is the highest number since it started keeping track of journalists killed in 1997.
IMAGE: A car belonging to the Cape Times was burnt while reporters for the newspaper were covering farm strikes in the Western Cape. CAPE TIMES