South Africa, Cape Town – The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) has expressed disappointment that its application has been denied to have the proceedings broadcast of the court case involving former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede and her 16 co-accused.
Gumede and her co-accused have appeared at the Durban Commercial Crimes Court on charges linked to a R430 million waste tender issued by the eThekwini municipality in 2017 while she was mayor. The State alleges the tender was rigged, Gumede had a hand in it and allegedly pocketed some financial benefits.
In a statement on Tuesday, Sanef noted, however, that this ruling will only apply to the pre-trial proceedings that Magistrate Dawn Soomaro will be presiding over and not to the trial itself.
Sanef said it would endeavour to persuade the Magistrates Commission to implement training for all magistrates around the guidelines to ensure that the ’’principle of open justice is upheld without the need to resort to lengthy and costly litigation’’.
’’We are disappointed that our application to have the proceedings of the case broadcast has been denied. Although not clearly stated, the application to record for purposes of radio also appears to have been denied.
’’The Magistrate has not yet issued reasons for her ruling, but this will be requested by Sanef. Sanef believes that there is a clear basis for an appeal to the High Court based on this ruling,“ Sanef said.
The media will only be permitted to do the following:
1. Six journalists can attend court, subject to Sanef providing a list of attendees to the court manager five days prior to each court date. This ruling was made because the court manager requested that all parties must let the court know beforehand who is going to be present to enable them to control access to the building and manage the situation for Covid-19 purposes;
2. Photos and video recordings can be taken inside the courtroom for 15 minutes before court, during any adjournment and at the end of proceedings each day.
’’Sanef has received legal advice that this ruling, unfortunately, deviates from the principles set out in the leading Supreme Court of Appeal case on the matter which endorses the approach that broadcasting should generally be permitted subject to reasonable restrictions unless there is a real risk that substantial prejudice will occur.
’’We also believe that Magistrate Soomaroo’s ruling does not accord with the approach stated in the Guidelines on Media Access to Magistrate Court Proceedings issued by the Magistrates Commission earlier this year, which state that courts should not restrict the nature and scope of broadcasting unless prejudice is demonstrable and there is a real risk that such prejudice will occur.
’’In essence, what the Magistrate has done is ban all video coverage while court is in session – even broadcasts of counsel making the argument and of her handing down rulings, which the guideline states should be allowed unless the presiding officer rules otherwise.’’