SANEF vs BLF: Battle for media freedom

Supporters of BLF constantly heckling and laughing during court proceedings

Johannesburg - In the battle for media freedom it was a war of words when journalists faced off with the leaders of the "political party" Black First Land First (BLF).

The two groups met at the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg on Thursday morning where the South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) had lodged an urgent interdict against BLF and its leader Andile Mngxitama.

The case was before Judge Corrie van der Westhuizen.

Sanef wants BLF to stop harassing, intimidating, assaulting and threatening journalists.

The court room was packed with veteran journalists including Ferial Haffajee, Sanef chairperson Mahlatse Gallens, News24 editor-in-chief Adriaan Basson, News24 investigating reporter Pieter-Louis Myburgh and political analyst Karima Brown.

Heckling, laughing

Supporters of BLF were constantly heckling and laughing during court proceedings.

Arguments intensified in court as both sides argued for and against media freedom.

Tembeka Ngcukaitobi representing Sanef argued that BLF wanted to tell journalists what to write.

He told the court that criticism of journalism should happen on journalistic platforms, not through physical attacks.

Ngcukaitobi also argued that no one was allowed to assault journalists irrespective of what they write about the Gupta family or President Jacob Zuma.

"Stop them from committing crimes... we don't know how this can aggravate further," he said.

He also told the court that Karima Brown was allegedly assaulted by BLF in the presence of the police. She was later blamed by the police for provoking BLF.

But Brandon Tshabangu, for BLF and Mngxitama, said when Brown was allegedly assaulted she should have gone to the police and not to the courts.

'White judge'

He also said following "racist" journalists home was allowed, but Judge Van der Westhuizen said journalists are individuals at their homes.

Tshabangu argued that freedom of expression does not only apply to journalists and that it was also about BLF's freedom to air views.

Judgment was reserved until Friday July 7 at 12:00.

Following court proceedings, Mngxitama told reporters outside court that their fate was now "in a white judge".

"As Black First Land First we do not have any trust in any white person," he said.

Meanwhile, pastor Nonqaba Mosunkutu, who came to support journalists in court told News24 that she sat and watched as Brown was insulted by one of the BLF members during court proceedings.

"I am here to support the journalists - we cannot afford the harassment of individual journalists, more especially at their private homes.

"I must say that journalists are doing well. They write what they are supposed to write because they are professional in any case," Mosunkutu said.

Brown confirmed to News24 a woman tried to intimidate her in court as she "put her foot on the bench and her foot kept on pressing into my back".

She said the woman verbally attacked her.