Commission’s pressure on journalist draws more fire

Date: 23 Oct 2019

AN attempt by a Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture investigator to force a journalist to reveal confidential information has attracted the wrath of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

CPJ Africa programme co-ordinator Angela Quintal criticised the attempts of the investigator, Frank Dutton, to force an Independent Media political journalist, Bongani Hans, to hand over notes and audio recordings of an interview he had in August with retired ANC politician, former KwaZulu-Natal MEC and KZN deputy speaker Meshack Radebe.

Radebe revealed that he witnessed bribes being paid to ANC delegates at the 2017 elective conference at Nasrec. The revelations also drew the attention of Paul Hoffman, SC, of the lobby group Accountability Now, who emailed the reporter on October 8, demanding details of his interaction with Radebe.

While Hoffman was exerting pressure on Hans to provide him with information that could compromise a source, Dutton got involved.

On October 13, he contacted Hans, and told him that Hoffman had sent him information concerning the Radebe interview and demanded any transcripts of the interview.

The reporter told Dutton that he was concerned about the ethical implications of the request.

Dutton later approached Independent Media’s offices in Durban to speak to Yogas Nair, KZN executive editor, who turned him down. This led to him threatening that the commission would subpoena Nair and Hans to appear before it.

In response, Quintal said protecting sources was a cardinal tenet of the craft of journalism, and reporters were ethically bound to do so, even to the extent that they would be prepared to go to jail rather than expose their sources, particularly where information was given confidentially and in good faith.

She said dating back to former president Nelson Mandela’s administration, an understanding was reached between the SA National Editors’ Forum and the then justice minister, Dullah Omar, that despite Section 205 of the Criminal Procedure Act still being in force, it would not be used to force journalists to disclose confidential information or their sources.

“This agreement continues to this day. You will recall that S205 is the provision that under apartheid was used to force journalists to disclose confidential information, and if they refused, they were jailed. Thankfully it has not been used this way in a democratic South Africa…”

Zondo Commission spokesperson Reverend Mbuyiselo Stemela had not responded by publication deadline.

  Advocate Paul Hoffman

Dutton has referred all questions to the commission.



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