- The SA National Editors’ Forum has successfully challenged a blanket ban on filming and photography during former eThekwini Mayor Zandile Gumede’s trial.
- The former eThekwini mayor and 21 others face corruption charges.
- The media and the accused will now be able to lodge formal applications for permission to film and take photographs.
A blanket ban that prevented the media from taking photographs or filming proceedings during the corruption trial of former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede and 21 others has been set aside.
This comes after the SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) successfully challenged the ban in the KwaZulu-Natal High Court.
Gumede and her co-accused are charged with racketeering, fraud and corruption relating to a R320 million waste contract.
On Thursday, the Office of the Chief Justice sent a letter to the media to say that Judge Sharmaine Balton would not allow the proceedings to be filmed or photographs to be taken in court.
At that stage, the media had not lodged any formal applications for permission to do so.
Sanef challenged the ban in an urgent application in the High Court on Monday where it asked for Balton’s decision to be rescinded.
In a founding affidavit, Sanef executive director Reggy Moalusi said the organisation viewed the decision as unconstitutional.
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Sanef also questioned the form in which the decision was communicated and said the letter did not have the same standing as a court order. The “legal effect of the letter is not entirely clear”, it said.
Moalusi said the “blanket and upfront refusal” that was “applicable for the entire duration of the trial” precluded the media from applying to court for permission for camera and television recordings.
In addition, Sanef’s court application flagged that the letter was sent without the presiding judge having invited or heard submissions from it and media houses.
The organisation also argued that the ban on filming and photography raised “important questions about media freedom and open justice”.
Now that the ban has been set aside, court applications for permission to film the proceedings and take photographs in court can be made from now until Friday. The accused will have an opportunity to make submissions in opposition to the applications.
Sanef welcomed the decision by the court.
“Barring cameras in the courtroom is tantamount to shutting out the huge public interest this case has. As Sanef, we have always made the point that justice must not only be done, but it must also be seen to be done,” it said in a statement.
“This is particularly pivotal in cases that involve public officials and taxpayers’ money, as is the case with this case. In such cases, the media will always call for transparency. The media, as the eyes and ears of the public, should never be barred from fully covering such matters, and should be free to report via all news platforms.”
Gumede is one of the most prominent ANC politicians in the province. The media has faced several battles in their efforts to access the proceedings, which Sanef mentioned in its application.
During her first court appearance, police officers protected Gumede’s supporters as they prevented the media from photographing her.
In 2020, a police officer allegedly barred journalists from using electronic devices during Gumede’s appearance in the Durban Commercial Crimes Court.
In 2021, senior prosecutor Ashika Lucken asked the court to only allow Gumede and her co-accused to observe the proceedings, citing the need for social distancing. Gumede later claimed it was aimed at hiding the State’s lack of preparedness.
In March, the media were initially barred from attending the proceedings but were eventually allowed to, after heated protestation.
Editor’s note: Sanef’s reaction has been added to this story.