EFF leader Julius Malema addresses a crowd outside the high court in Pretoria. The EFF has been dragged to the Equality Court by Sanef and a number of journalists over the intimidation of journalists. File photo: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

Johannesburg - As the Equality Court hears the SA National Editors’ Forum’s (Sanef) court case against the EFF, the organisation has said that it hoped the case - together with other recent court cases fighting harassment of journalists - will begin to build and rebuild an environment where journalists can do their work.

Sanef and a number of individual journalists have taken the EFF to the Equality Court to argue that the latter have enabled an environment in which intimidation, harassment, threats and/ or assaults on journalists including the individual complainants in this case have been tolerated and in fact encouraged, creating a chilling effect on freedom of expression, access to information and freedom of the media in the country.

In response the EFF have argued that they do not know – and have no control over - the people responsible for the barrage of online harassment journalists receive daily. 

However, Sanef in a statement on Monday said it doesn't believe this is correct. 

"We believe that the EFF leadership have a duty to publicly condemn the actions of their supporters when they harass and intimidate journalists and they have systematically chosen not to. 

"We believe that this has created an environment within which EFF supporters, and others, have felt justified in threatening journalists.

"We state in our court papers that we do not think journalists are above criticism - we encourage criticism. However, we oppose threats, harassment, intimidation and assaults. 

Further, Sanef says it believes criticism should be tested and weighed up through channels such as the Press Council, the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA), Icasa and the courts. 

"We have noted that the EFF have specifically chosen not to subject their criticisms – including allegations that journalists operate as politicians - to these structures so that these criticisms can be tested and verified.

"A further set of issues raised by the EFF is that the protection afforded by the Equality Act does not extend to journalists and the journalist profession.

Sanef however, contended that the Act does indeed make space for journalists to be protected by virtue of their occupation. 

Finally, Sanef touched on EFF leader Julius Malema's denial that his speech, made to his supporters outside the Zondo Commission in Johannesburg on 20 November 2018 - the trigger for this court case - constituted hate speech and an incitement to violence against journalists. 

Malema claimed that in certain sections of his speech he, in fact called for restraint, including in particular restraint in terms of women journalists. 

Sanef however, said it believed that Malema selectively and opportunistically quotes only a single section of his speech. 

"We believe that in other sections he clearly called for violent action against journalists. Further, he named particular journalists who were then mercilessly trolled," the organisation said.

The matter continues.