Picture: @Eusebius/Twitter

Johannesburg - The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) on Tuesday filed an urgent application against Black First Land First (BLF) and its founder, Andile Mngxitama, at the High Court in Johannesburg following their intimidatory acts against journalists reporting on state capture.

Last weekend BLF members, whose organisation is reportedly funded by the Gupta family, marched to Tiso Blackstar's editor-at-large Peter Bruce’s house in Johannesburg, demanding that he stop writing about the family. 

When Business Day editor Tim Cohen arrived at Bruce’s house, he was reportedly manhandled by the angry mob.

The BLF then issued a statement in which is listed other white journalists who it said were next on their target list. 

The list included EWN’s Stephen Grootes and Barry Bateman, amaBhungane’s Sam Sole, and News24 columnist Max du Preez.

Sanef, in court papers filed, asked the court to interdict BLF and Mngxitama from harassing, intimidating, assaulting and threatening 11 senior journalists, editors and commentators that have been targeted for their reporting on state capture.

In her founding affidavit, Sanef chairperson Mahlatse Gallens says the harassment of these journalists is “part and parcel” of an orchestrated campaign.

“Each one of the journalists are senior professionals who in their area of reporting expertise have reported to the nation, objectively and independently on the political state of the South African economy and the corruption and maladministration consequent upon the alleged capturing of the national economy to further the interests of an elite few.”

According to Gallens, the purpose of the targeted harassment of these journalists was to keep allegations of corruption and state capture out of the public domain.

“The concerns around state capture are rife.  Not a day goes by that we as South Africans are not faced with the pervasive impact of its corruption and maladministration. It is important that free and independent journalism is brought to bear on these reports because the media is also a catalyst of peace, dialogue and understanding, which will create the framework for the public to digest these reports within the bounds of the rule of law.  

"If we are perceived in any way as falsifying information because we are being threatened, public debate becomes fractured, polarised and I daresay, volatile as a consequence of segments of society perceiving themselves as being misled,” Gallens stated.

Sanef also asked the court to interdict BLF and Mngxitama from gathering outside the homes of these journalists; from threatening them with violence on social media, and from inciting harm against the journalists in any public interviews.

“This court should be slow to countenance such violence and threats against the media because a free and pluralist media is vital to the democratic functioning of the Republic. This means that as journalists, publishers, editors, bloggers and other media actors we must be able to carry out our tasks without fear of intervention or reprisals – which requires adequate protection from violence, threats and pressures.  

"This can affect how we work, which stories we decide to report and how we report on them. Furthermore, an attack on one journalist or media worker can have a chilling effect on others, particularly when perpetrators can act with impunity, as the respondents [BLF and Mngxitama] do,” Gallens said.

Sanef's application has been served on BLF and Mngxitama, who will now have the opportunity to file answering papers before the matter is heard by the high court.