The two men were wielding guns and preparing to unleash terror on the nation. With their faces obscured, they were apparently loading their guns in preparation to rob tourists and cause mayhem during the forthcoming World Cup in South Africa.
This was the image a controversial television channel, E.tv, beamed to South Africa and probably the world when they broadcast a documentary about criminals trying to upset the progress made by South Africa to host the international football tournament.
But the image is causing a huge controversy among South Africans and journalists for what they term irresponsible journalism, and the media house has now been subpoenaed under Section 205 of the South African (SA) constitution, to reveal the identities of the two men shown in the video.
However, some journalists including the SA Press Council believe the subpoena infringes on press freedom and is also a way to silent the media. “The police, using laws that existed under apartheid, are seeking to circumvent the journalists’ right to report without fear and the public’s right to know by issuing this subpoena,” said the council’s vice chairperson Bewyn Petersen. But other journalists and some South Africans disagree. They do not approve the way and manner the story was reported.
Unathi Kondile, a South African journalist and blogger said: “This belongs in the Looney bin or sensationalist corner. Because tell me, like you would to a child, what the objectives of airing this nationally and worldwide are? What does one seek to gain by airing threats? Moral panic? What would you be thinking when you aired such? And then refuse to reveal sources or use your source’s information anonymously to lead to an arrest; not a broadcast.”
The only reason we keep sources under wraps is to protect them from harm or for exclusivity. If your source gives you a tip off – you don’t run and interview the criminals you were tipped about and air it on TV, unless you’re that hungry to sensationalise and are just generally morally bankrupt. Why did E.tv decide to go interview these so-called criminals, instead of just getting them arrested and not even having to mention there was a source that tipped them off?”
Reinardt Bronkhorst also commenting said: “I do not have the same opinion as you overall of E.tv news. Like almost every other South African product, I find it at best weak. I would though agree that this story should not have been delivered the way it was. I feel they should have helped the police, and then after the fact, broadcast the story. It reminds me of the Semenya story. All media is only in it for the money, NOTHING else. Yet they hide behind the so called nobility of the industry, the voice of reason and truth. When the truth is, like politicians, journalists serve only their own interests.”
SA Police Commissioner, Bekhi Cele, today said: “A friend of a criminal is a criminal. E.tv clearly is a crime kisser. They’ve exposed themselves as such. The question is will they reveal the source if they come to them and threaten to shoot and rape their mothers? Maybe they didn’t care. Clearly this time they sold out.”
Meanwhile, the tv station, known for its news slants and reportage has refused to reveal the identities of the two criminals or source and it was in fact claimed that a man that committed suicide, Lucky Phungula, in Soweto, Tuesday was the alleged source linked to the story.
Update: Just half an hour after writing this piece, SA police said they had apprehended one of the thugs in the E.TV. video.