A group of journalists and Unicef employees were attacked by a group of men at Embalenhle township near Secunda on Thursday evening in what the South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) has labelled a clear case of intimidation.
Frayintermedia journalist, Desmond Latham, a female staff member and a female employee from Unicef were filming a project for Unicef on children in Embalenhle township.
“We had stopped at the side of the road (corner R546 and Embalenhli road) to film Secunda. The men out of the blue assaulted us. We had no idea what was going on other than they were criminals engaged in a robbery – and they were extremely angry and determined to assault journalists,” Latham told Sanef.
“It was only when we arrived at the police station that the SAPS informed us of the tension and the road had been a flashpoint for taxi drivers who had been gathering there for a few days forcing people out of buses.”
The team were unaware of a conflict between the VUKTA taxi association, which is fighting a local bus company, Megabus.
“There has been no report about this (story), and we were attacked without warning… Police were involved because the Unicef person is from Brazil,” said Latham. “These men are punching women. They appear to be (allegedly) hired by the association…The taxi company is targeting reporters,” he added.
SANEF said it was deeply concerned that journalists increasingly faced violence and intimidation for exercising their fundamental right to freedom of expression in this country. “Women journalists face specific dangers and are especially vulnerable and sometimes subjected to mob-related violence when covering public events, often in reprisal for their work,” it said in a statement.
As a result, they suffer from trauma and the emotional impact of experiencing physical attacks which lead to anxiety, insomnia, irritation and or post-traumatic stress disorder, which can cause incapacitating feelings of horror, fear and despair.
SANEF was told that while the victims were not severely hurt, the attackers stole their Canon D5 and lens and damaged their vehicle.
Lathan warned journalists who may be heading to Secunda to keep a sharp eye out for “mobs of men”. A case of assault and robbery was registered at Embalenhle police station.
“SANEF believes that the intention was to intimidate journalists so that they are reluctant to write, research or speak about the territorial battle and violence in the taxi industry in Mpumalanga,” it said.
SANEF said it joined UNESCO and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in efforts to strengthen the capacity of member states to implement, voluntarily, mechanisms to prevent attacks against journalists, to protect journalists, and to prosecute the perpetrators of these attacks.
“We call on the office of President Cyril Ramaphosa to take a leaf from UNESCO’s action plan that focuses on activities to raise awareness and train representatives of the judiciary, law enforcement agencies and parliaments on the importance of freedom of the press and the safety of journalists,” it said. “A commitment to the protection of journalists allows journalists and media professionals to receive, produce and share information without facing physical or moral threats.”
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