Nicholas Ninow appeared in the North Gauteng High Court on Wednesday on charges of raping a 7-year-old girl in the bathroom of a Dros restaurant in Pretoria. Photo: Oupa Mokoena / African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town – The South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) has strongly condemned the escalating harassment and abuse of journalists in the country.

Sanef also noted the raging debate on the matter of Eyewitness News journalist Barry Bateman, who uttered an unsavoury word in public allegedly aimed at EFF leader Julius Malema. 

"Sanef has learnt with sadness of an incident on Wednesday where journalists Alex Mitchley of News24, Hanti Otto of Netwerk24 and Pule Letshwiti from were approached and threatened by a State witness in the Nicholas Ninow case," it said.

Ninow pleaded guilty on Wednesday to raping a 5-year-old at a Dros restaurant in Pretoria last year. He pleaded guilty to rape, possession of drugs and defeating the ends of justice, but not guilty to assault.

"According to Mitchley, the witness approached the journalists very angrily outside the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Tuesday during a tea break, asking why media houses named him.  

"It was explained that there was no court order not to name the witness as he testified in an open court. He then looked at the journalists and said, in Afrikaans, that he was going to slit their throats, even making a throat-slitting gesture with his thumb while smiling and laughing.

“I told him to leave us alone and would inform the court of his threats. He tried following to apologize but I told him to get away from me as he had just threatened our lives,” Mitchley said.

"The witness came to court to confront journalists as he finished testifying on Monday.

"The harassment of journalists, not just by authorities and politicians but lately general members of the public in protest areas, is a phenomenon that has prompted growing concerns for Sanef in recent months.

"Sanef notes that while retaliation for the content of professional output is common to all journalists, female journalists face an additional burden in that they are also attacked purely based on their gender.

"Sanef wishes to caution against impunity for threats of any nature and crimes against the media because it fuels and perpetuates the cycle of violence and the resulting self-censorship deprives society of information and further affects press freedom.

"It also directly impacts the United Nations’ human rights-based efforts to promote peace, security, and sustainable development."

On Malema, Sanef said it noted the concerns raised by the supporters of the EFF. 

"We also note that employer Prime Media has apologised and has launched an investigation into the matter.

"Sanef does not condone the unprofessional behaviour on the part of any journalist. However, we believe this should not be used as an excuse to trigger an all-out attack on the media and journalists as a collective. 

"Rather than a verdict being debated on social media, we ask that this matter be dealt with via the media house concerned."

The EFF “rejected the delayed lukewarm Eyewitness News apology”, calling for “concomitant action”. Bateman was caught on camera calling Malema a "p**s".

“Had it been a black journalist who would have insulted a white journalist, he would be under suspension with immediate effect,” the EFF said.

The EFF said Bateman must be “dealt with the same way and not be accorded the white privilege of kid’s gloves”.