The battle between the media – The Star newspaper in particular – has hotted up with detectives from the Hillbrow police station in Johannesburg making an unannounced visit to The Star’s offices this week. The visit related to a series of exposes on Gauteng waste management company, Pikitup, published by the newspaper, which has published a series of exposes on allegations of corruption and fraud at Pikitup.
The Star’s reports are based on a confidential report seen by its reporters. The report was produced by Ernst & Young, which conducted a forensic audit into Pikitup, the City of Johannesburg’s waste management company. Now Pikitup has laid a charge of theft against the newspaper, saying it the document is illegally in its possession.
The South African National Editor’s Forum has stepped in, saying it is “deeply concerned” over the actions of the police. “During the visit by detectives of the Hillbrow police station, The Star’s editor Makhudu Sefara was asked to provide a warning statement to the police about the newspaper’s ‘battle with Pikitup’. Sefara rightfully declined to co-operate and referred the detectives to the newspaper’s lawyers,” Sanef said in a statement.
Sanef said Pikitup’s managing director, Amanda Nair, has “launched a two-pronged attack on The Star, by laying criminal charges of theft of the forensic report against the newspaper and by launching a high court application for the return of the forensic report by The Star”, Sanef said.
It also reported that the Sunday Times received a similar unannounced visit last week. Police demanded the return of the copy of the report legally acquired by the newspaper, Sanef said. “The newspaper’s lawyer was called to the meeting and the police team left after a robust discussion. Senior Sunday Times staff experienced the unannounced visit as intimidatory and inappropriate. Police returned by appointment on Monday to take a statement in which the Sunday Times stated that the report was legally acquired and would not be surrendered,” Sanef said.
The editors’ forum said it believed that while it is within Pikitup’s constitutional rights to take action – provided it is lawful – if the agency believes it has been wronged, “it is also the public’s right to know if public funds were squandered by the agency and the media’s right and duty to expose such wrongdoing.”
The bottom line is that the SAPS “cannot arrive unannounced at a newspaper’s office and demand warning statements from journalists without even informing the editor about the basis of the complaint. The only possible interpretation of this visit is that it was an attempt to intimidate The Star and its reporters”, Sanef said..
The organisation said it would follow up the actions of the police with the office of General Riah Phiyega, the national police commissioner.
The Star’s editor, Makhudu Sefara, discusses the case in the YouTube clip below.