The Glebelands community’s constitutional rights to privacy, in their desperation to reveal the truth behind their persecution and suffering, have been severely contravened – this time by a broadcaster whose controversial owners are closely linked to President Jacob Zuma.
“The protection of [media] sources is a basic principle in a democratic and free society” - Code of Ethics and Conduct for South African Print and Online Media (effective from January 1, 2016)
Prior to the Glebelands press conference on Sunday 17 April, during which violence victims announced their recent appeal to United Nations Human Rights Council, major safety concerns were raised by the community - particularly regarding those who would address the media – if their identities were revealed, especially in the wake of the murder of ANC PR Councillor, Zodwa Sibiya only the night before. As 62 people have now been murdered at Glebelands, 12 tortured by police – mostly of the same group that has been targeted by politically-connected hit-men, whose names were also believed to have appeared on hit-lists and who have also been subjected to malicious arrests; and around 1 000 residents violently evicted from their rooms – these fears are well-founded.
The Glebelands invitation had clearly stipulated that: “Due to serious security concerns we ask all attendees to refrain from identifying individual members of the community unless specific permission is obtained from the person concerned.”
Film crews and reporters present were briefed extensively regarding threats to residents and the need for voice and visual distortion. The press from various publications and channels were extremely understanding, many of whom have followed the Glebelands story since the outset, including the assassination of Sipho Ndovela at the Umlazi Magistrate’s Court last year, and were therefore well aware of the risks that identification presented to all concerned. Previously members of the media have mostly dealt with the violence victims in a sensitive and ethical manner. That is, until Gupta-TV arrived.
The team from ANN7 came late but the cameraman and presenter were comprehensively instructed before they joined the press conference regarding the sensitivity of the situation and the need to protect visual and verbal identities. Before they departed, the ANN7 team was again reminded of their responsibility to residents’ security. The presenter and cameraman both provided heartfelt assurances that they would ensure no one’s identity was revealed.
On Tuesday 21 April I received a panic stricken call from one of the press conference participants who advised that: “ANN7 has betrayed us.”
I discovered ANN7 had hilighted the Glebelands footage at regular intervals throughout the previous day – WITHOUT having taken any of the measures requested to conceal the identity or voices of those present, to which they had committed, and to which they were bound by the Press Code of Ethics and Conduct and the South African Constitution.
I immediately sent the presenter, Zinhle, the following text message: “I have just been informed ANN7 has exposed the identities of residents interviewed at Glebelands on Sunday in your coverage. Kindly forward me ANN7 CEO & Broadcasting Head contact details and ensure all footage is removed IMMEDIATELY from your website and any other related media or ANN7 WILL face legal action. You have contravened the press code of conduct and willfully endangered people’s lives.”
Half an hour later I received the following WhatsApp message from ANN7 Assignment Editor, Cecilia Russell: “I tried to call you but you did not answer your phone. [I was being interviewed by SAFM] Zinhle sent your message regarding the identities of the people at Gleblands (sic). We sent her to cover the press conference and the fact that you had requested that identities should be masked was not communicated to us by our reporter or camera person. I have asked that the material is removed from online. Our coverage was based on this press conference and further interviews done by our Durban office. Kind regards, Cecilia Russell, Assignment editor ANN7.”
I replied that this was very serious and I would revert soonest.
According to the Preamble of the Code of Ethics and Conduct for South African Print and Online Media (effective from January 1, 2016): “The media exist to serve society….The media’s work is guided at all times by the public interest… As journalists we commit ourselves to the highest standards, to maintain credibility and keep the trust of the public. This means always striving for truth, avoiding unnecessary harm…and.. showing a special concern for … vulnerable groups…”
Furthermore, in Chapter 1: Media-generated content and activities: clause 3.1. states: “The media shall exercise care and consideration in matters involving the private lives and concerns of individuals.” Clause 11 states: “Confidential and Anonymous Sources: The media shall: (11.1.) protect confidential sources of information – the protection of sources is a basic principle in a democratic and free society; (11.3.) not publish information that constitutes a breach of confidence, unless the public interest dictates otherwise.” Section 14 (d) PRIVACY of the South African Constitution, also states: “Everyone has the right to privacy, which includes the right not to have the privacy of their communications infringed.”
The Glebelands community’s constitutional rights to privacy, in their desperation to reveal the truth behind their persecution and suffering, have been severely contravened – this time by a broadcaster whose controversial owners are closely linked to the president – and their lives – already at great risk, put in even further danger. Our country’s constitutional democracy is truly dead for the Glebelands violence victims.
In addition, ANN7’s irresponsibility could have destroyed vital trust – my relationship with the Glebelands violence victims having been built over two years of hard work under very dangerous conditions. Without trust, a human rights defender is powerless and lacks the credibility needed to undertake advocacy work needed.
The most shocking aspect of ANN7’s latest monumental and very dangerous blunder is the lack of professionalism and utter lack of remorse with which the transgression had been met by channel management. No regret, no apology, no undertaking to take steps that this will never happen again; no acknowledgement of the level of danger which their ineptitude has exposed around 40 people whose lives were already at high risk. Ms Russell seemed to think that removal of the footage was sufficient – hostel dwellers’ lives clearly mean nothing to ANN7 – much less do they warrant a public apology. Nothing further has been heard from ANN7 management.
Unlike her employers, the presenter did at least send a personal apology via sms: “I’m dearly sorry about this. I have contacted my line manager and she says all footage is removed right now. I am dearly sorry for this.”
However, although the presenter and cameraman failed utterly to adhere to the most basic reporting ethics and requirements, responsibility ultimately rests, as always, with management. ANN7’s utter incompetence is revealed yet again: firstly for assigning a team of young, clearly inexperienced and irresponsible reporters to cover a hard news story such as Glebelands; secondly, for treating such a serious breach of trust with utter disregard for the consequences; and thirdly, for failing to provide a public apology to the community concerned.
ANN7, without rectifying your life-threatening blunder, you are no longer welcome at Glebelands.
Perhaps a public interest attorney may like to take up this matter on behalf of the Glebelands violence victims who, now that their faces have been seen and their voices heard, fear imminent reprisals from politically connected hit-men and / or brutality or false arrest by the police members with whom they are believed to collude. They have suffered enough and are now forced to suffer further stress and possible repercussions from their attempts to exercise their right to freedom of speech.
The fact that a press conference – usually a very public affair – had employ such exceptional security precautions, says a lot about the denial of constitutional freedoms, democratic rights and levels of fear to which this community is daily subjected. ANN7 has just made matters a whole lot worse.
If anyone is assassinated, falsely arrested, tortured by police, evicted, attacked or persecuted in any way as a result of this disgraceful negligence, ANN7 must take full responsibility. A complaint will be lodged with the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of SA.
SHAME ON GUPTA-TV!
* Vanessa Burger is an independent community activist for human rights and social justice in South Africa. [email protected]
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