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Johannesburg - The Department of Justice on Wednesday dismissed reports that journalists were barred from entering the Vanderbijlpark Magistrate's Court where EFF leader Julius Malema was appearing.
“According to our officials, no journalists were barred from covering the court case,” spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga told Sapa.
“(The) magistrate ordered that no cameras were allowed, and this is standard practice for any photographic coverage and video recording of proceedings to be preceded by an application to the magistrate before the date of trial,” he said.
Security guards at the door told the media they were instructed not to allow them inside the court where Malema was appearing.
Malema was ushered into the court through the back gate used by police officers. His appearance was short and the case was postponed to February 28.
His supporters were singing and dancing outside the court.
Economic Freedom Fighters members wearing red berets and T-shirts were carrying Malema posters as they danced.
Malema was down to appear on charges of reckless or negligent driving.
He was arrested in December for allegedly driving at 215km/h in a 120km/h zone.
Magistrate Robson Mpela said the reason journalists were not allowed was because they had not applied for permission to attend the proceedings. Asked if the next time Malema appeared the media had to put forward a request, he said not only for his case.
“Every time they (media) want to cover any matter, an application must be made and the merits evaluated then a decision will be made,” he said.
After a Sapa reporter told Mhaga that he was stopped by the security guards after seeing his laptop in his bag, Mhaga said it could be attributed to miscommunication.
“Otherwise that is regretted and we apologise to all journalists who encountered that unfortunate experience. We will ensure a reminder compunction is sent out to all our officials.”
He said the DOJ considered the media to be playing a critical role in the fight against crime and they would be concerned if they were denied access to court proceedings.
On Tuesday, a Sapa journalist was told he could not attend the court proceedings at the Ntuzuma Magistrate's Court near Durban with his laptop and without first having obtained written permission to take notes in court.
The journalist demanded to be arrested if he was to be prevented from covering the proceedings without the necessary permission.
After a discussion with three other senior court officials, who were informed about the right of the media to attend court hearings, he was allowed to continue taking notes.
The reporter was told there would be no requirement for him to seek permission.