Media houses had done nothing wrong in naming Johan Kotze and publishing details of his alleged crime before his appearance in court, the National Prosecuting Authority said on Friday.
“The media naming him has not compromised the case for prosecution at all,” said NPA spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga.
“He had been a fugitive who the police were looking for,” he said.
“The media naming him and publishing his photograph helped in identifying him.”
Although there is no general law that prohibits the naming of a suspect before they have appeared in court, in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act a person who has been charged with indecency or extortion may not be named until they have pleaded.
However, Mhaga said that when a person was running away “it changes the whole dimension”.
“In this case, members of community assisted the police in tracking him down,” he said.
Kotze appeared in the Modimolle Magistrate's Court on Friday for allegedly killing his teenage stepson and orchestrating an attack on his estranged wife.
He and a 42-year-old co-accused face 17 charges, including murder, conspiracy to rape, rape, sexual assault, kidnapping and common assault.
A manhunt was launched for Kotze when he fled in a white Toyota Fortuner after allegedly murdering his stepson at his home on January 4 and forcing three men at gunpoint to gang-rape his estranged wife.
Kotze was arrested in the town on Wednesday.
“The media played a role in his arrest. So, in this case, naming was justifiable,” said Mhaga.
Webber Wentzel media lawyer Okyerebea Ampofo-Anti said it was unclear whether the crimes of indecency or extortion would be applicable in Kotze's case.
“In any event, he had not been charged with anything at the time that he was named because he was still on the run,” she said.
Ampofo-Anti said that in a recent Supreme Court of Appeal case, an individual who had been identified as being involved in various criminal activities had sued a newspaper for defamation.
In this case, the court held that each case must be considered on its own merits to determine whether it was in the public interest for the suspect to be named.
“The court found that the publication was in the public interest because it encouraged the public to come forward with information to assist the police,” Ampofo-Anti said.
“In view of the fact that Kotze was a fugitive from justice who was being actively sought by the police, the media was not under any legal obligation to conceal his identity.”
Mail & Guardian ombudsman Franz Kruger, who wrote the book “Black, white and grey: journalism ethics in South Africa”, said the specific circumstances around the Kotze case had made it acceptable for his name to be published.
“The specific circumstance was that he was being sought,” Kruger said.
“The police wanted to put out his identity so that they could apprehend him.”
Kruger said that media houses had to be cautious in their wording when reporting on the case.
Journalists had to make it clear that Kotze was still an accused who had not yet been found guilty.
Kruger said people were often identified in high profile cases, that people quickly assumed they were guilty and that not much could be done to prevent this.
“The media have to make it clear that he is simply an accused who may still be found guilty,” he said.
“Media houses have to be cautious in their tone and wording in these cases.
“In reporting and headlining it must be clear that an accused has not yet been found guilty.” - Sapa