Pretoria - The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) legal representative has told the Equality Court that party leader Julius Malema has a right to robustly engage journalists who write opinion pieces about politics.
"Journalists who are political commentators shouldn't deny the EFF an opportunity to be engaged robustly," said Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi at the North High Court on Monday.
Ngcukaitobi was presenting heads of arguments after the South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) approached the Equality Court following the "intimidation" of journalists Barry Bateman, Adriaan Basson, Max du Preez, Ranjeni Munusamy and Pauli van Wyk.
Sanef is seeking to interdict Malema against intimidation of journalists and also wants the party to publicly apologise to the complainants.
Earlier, advocate Daniel Berger SC- acting for Sanef and the journalists- accused Malema of endorsing attempts by EFF members to intimidate and incite violence against journalists.
Ngcukaitobi dismissed this statement, saying: "The EFF cannot be held liable for unidentifiable people, the applicants have themselves contributed to the climate of toxicity that is complained about."
Ngcukaitobi continued to lambast Sanef and an example used by Berger about how Malema had allegedly incited violence during one of his addresses.
He said that Sanef had lifted parts of Malema's address that were self-serving.
Berger had earlier said Malema's utterances included telling his supporters that once journalists took sides in reporting they were acting like politicians and should be treated as such, and when "the enemy" raised its head, supporters should "cut" the head.
"Journalists who report in a particular way, they will be treated differently. Write their names down and attend to these journalists decisively," Malema was quoted as having said.
But, said Ngcukaitobi, Malema had also said: "I am a friend of these journalists but I disagree with them, we don’t have to kill them but they must live long to see the success of EFF."
Ngcukaitobi argued that the address must be read as a whole. A reasonable reader would not construe Malema's comments as threats or incitement to violence, he said.
"There is no sensible basis that Malema must tone down rhetoric, he is a politician after all," Ngcukaitobi said.
He also told the court that Sanef did not have any legal standing as the matter should not be handled by the Equality Court.
"Occupation is not an innate intrinsic of analogous ground, the primary ground of discrimination is race or gender because it shares an immutable characteristic. Journalism as a profession cannot be equal to race or gender," said Ngcukaitobi, calling for the dismissal of the application.
The matter continues on Tuesday.
African News Agency (ANA)