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Prosecutors banned from speaking to media

(MISA/IFEX) - 25 January 2010 - Prosecutors have condemned a ruling by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) boss that they must not speak to the media. The new national director of public prosecutions, Menzi Simelani, has restrained prosecutors from engaging with the media without authorization. He said the corresponding director of public prosecutions would be held responsible for any information leaked to the media without permission.

The spokesperson for the NPA director's office, Bulelwa Makeke, confirmed that the directive came from the head of the institute, saying, "He wants us to have more control over what gets communicated and how it gets communicated." Makeke said the directive was relayed in an internal document to take effect "immediately as an amendment to the current media policy."

"Again, like any other industry, we have a reputation to uphold," Makeke added, stating that the NPA was not answering queries about the policy as it is an internal matter.

"We are one of the most accessible institutions for the media because we realize the work of the NPA is in the public interest," said Makeke.

The NPA has come under close scrutiny over a high-profile case related to Sheryl Cwele, wife of Siyabonga Cwele, the Minister of State Security. Cwele was named in a case linked to South African drug mule Tessa Beetge, who has been in a Sao Paulo jail in Brazil since 2008. The NPA has been seen to be dragging its heels on further charges in the case.

Meanwhile, prosecutors have spoken out against their boss (on condition of anonymity). An experienced prosecutor said the new ruling was reminiscent of the apartheid era. "Obviously there is a greater reason this ban is in place. We normally speak to the media so that they can carry on with their jobs as the watchdogs of society . . . especially when we sense there is a move to quash charges or discreetly drop them," the prosecutor said.

Another prosecutor called the ban "ridiculous", saying, "We rely on the media to convey the message that justice is being done. One of the most important aspects of justice is that it must be seen to be done. How else do we get this across?"

One defiant prosecutor said the policy would not stop them from speaking to the media. "Those of us who have good working relationships with the media will continue to pass on information to them. I think it is in the country's best interest," he said.

Sheriza Ramoutar, the acting director of public prosecutions in KwaZulu-Natal, said the policy should not be a cause for alarm. "This has always been the policy. Prosecutors have never been allowed to officially speak to the media," Ramoutar said.

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