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eNews journalists subpoenaed after story on criminals' World Cup plans

(MISA/IFEX) - The ruling African National Congress (ANC) has demanded that e.tv help police arrest two criminals who threatened to rob World Cup tourists during interviews broadcast by the station recently. The move came following a police decision to have two eNews journalists subpoenaed, after a story was broadcast on the criminals' plans for the Soccer World Cup.

Reporter Mpho Lakaje's story, aired on 15 January 2010, featured interviews with two criminals. One said he would rob tourists during the World Cup. Another said he would shoot his way out of a standoff with police if he felt his life was in danger. Broadcaster e.tv confirmed on 18 January that Lakaje and news editor Ben Said had been subpoenaed to appear in court unless they provided the identity and contact details of the interviewees, original footage, and details regarding the firearms featured in the story.

The ANC also called on e.tv to do what it claims is the "honourable" thing and withdraw the broadcast featuring the interviews with self-confessed criminals. It claims that these criminals are not only a threat to tourists, but to the dreams and desires of South Africa and Africa to host a successful Soccer World Cup.

On 20 January, local media reports said the broadcast infuriated Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa. The station was accused of sensationalism and "harbouring" criminals, and a debate about media freedom ensued. According to media analysts, anxiety over the Soccer World Cup and South Africa's image abroad may have led police to take this action.

William Bird, director of the Media Monitoring Project, blamed "2010 jitters" for the police action. Melissa Moore, acting executive director of the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI), said lack of protection of journalists' sources would harm the right to freedom of expression.

MISA condemns both the ANC and police actions in this case and calls on the police to withdraw the subpoena against the eNews journalists. MISA views the reaction by the police in this regard as an infringement of freedom of expression in South Africa. MISA believes it is the duty of the police to investigate and arrest criminals and thus it would be unethical to expect the media to reveal its sources in a bid to gratify the police and the ANC in particular. The story by eNews served to awaken the police of what to expect during the upcoming world event and thus should not be viewed as a threat to the World Cup. MISA further calls on the South African Government to see to it that issues behind the 2010 FIFA World Cup not destroy the existing conducive atmosphere for journalists to operate without fear, or obstruct the media in South Africa.

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