The “weaponisation of social media”, as an immediate threat to the credibility and safety of journalists, has been cast into the spotlight at the annual general meeting (AGM) of the SA National Editors Forum (Sanef).
In a statement, Sanef on Monday said fake news, cyberbullying and physical threats were hampering journalists.
Sanef said the AGM, which was held on June 10, said: “Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook are being used by nefarious forces to bully, harass and threaten professional journalists doing their jobs.”
The forum encouraged journalists to report online or physical abuse and harassment on its Twitter handle (@SAEditorsForum), or by contacting the Sanef office, or through their title editors.
Addressing the AGM, KwaZulu-Natal Judge President Achmat Jappie said it was the responsibility of the media and the judiciary to safeguard SA’s democracy.
“Without information, citizens cannot make informed decisions. If citizens can’t make informed decisions, then they are nothing more than a bunch of sheep,” Jappie said during an address on active citizenry.
Jappie emphasised the role of the media in disseminating information to citizens and the government.
“If the media doesn’t report, how will the government know what the people are thinking? They will sit in a dark room and create their own reality.”
Sanef expressed its outrage at the death threats received by investigative journalists, including Sipho Masondo from City Press and Mzilikazi wa Afrika from the Sunday Times, in recent months.
“The AGM agreed to urgently request a meeting with Police Minister Fikile Mbalula and the acting national commissioner of the SAPS, Lieutenant-General Lesetja Mothiba, to discuss these and other threats to, and intimidation of, journalists.”
The AGM also discussed SA photojournalist Shiraaz Mohamed who has still not been released from captivity in Syria since December.
“We urgently appeal to the department of international relations and co-operation, the Syrian government and other agencies involved to secure his safe release.”
Sanef added that it believed the Press Ombudsman had erred in making findings of hate speech and discrimination against HuffPost.
“The AGM was briefed on a research report into the threats editors face from commercial interests. Sanef will begin to draw up an Editorial Charter for South African journalists in consultation with our members and the industry.”