The SA National Editors Forum (Sanef) on Sunday laid bare journalists’ grievances and difficulties around covering the coronavirus pandemic to President Cyril Ramaphosa.
In a virtual discussion held with Ramaphosa, Sanef chairperson Mahlatse Mahlase listed retrenchments, salary cuts, Covid-19 infections and deaths, intimidation from police and a lack of information from government offices as the media’s daily challenges.
Mahlase said publications were among those hardest hit by the pandemic with some organisations having to retrench workers or impose salary cuts, at times up to 40%.
She highlighted that several journalists had contracted the coronavirus while in the line of duty. One of them, eNCA cameraman Lungile Tom, died.
Mahlase also highlighted how some police officers continued to hinder journalists while conducting their work.
In one instance, journalist Paul Nthoba was forced to flee the country to Lesotho following a confrontation with police.
“He was confronted by police saying he had no right to film him,” said Mahlase.
Nthoba was assaulted and he drove to the police station, hoping to lay a charge but “he was refused and the police instead wanted to a lay charge against him”, Mahlase said.
Nthoba chose to flee the country after noticing that there were police watching him.
“He wants to return home,” Mahlase said.
Ramaphosa thanked the media for their sterling work in covering the coronavirus pandemic.
On the issue of Nthoba, he said: “I am going to direct the minister of police (Bheki Cele) to ensure he has safe passage back into the country and he is not subjected to any molestation … any threats or harassment because as you correctly say, he was simply doing his work. Police have no business to interfere with that.”
He said he was unhappy about this and the fact that several journalists have contracted the virus with one losing their life.
Ramaphosa said he would continue to engage with the media on a regular basis, adding that they had made an “indispensable contribution” to the country’s fight against the pandemic.