Foreign Correspondents Condemn New Media Restrictions
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ Foreign correspondents on Saturday condemned a new ban on photographing unrest in emergency areas as an attempt to ″prevent South Africa’s social conflict from reaching the outside world.″
Minister of Law and Order Louis le Grange said the restrictions were imposed Saturday because television crews and photographers had ″proved to be a catalyst to further violence″ in black townships where rioting took place.
The new regulations make it a crime, punishable by up to 10 years in jail, to take or transmit photos, sound recordings or television footage of violence in 38 state-of-emergency districts without permission by the police commissioner. They also require print journalists to obtain police permission to remain at riot scenes.
In Johannesburg’s black township of Soweto, witnesses said police arrested about 200 youths at an all-night funeral vigil and later fired on mourners, wounding at least four.
Witnesses said about 15,000 people attended the service for Laurence Cindi, a 13-year-old schoolboy shot dead last week after another funeral.
No television crews or photographers were in sight when the violence broke out, said a witness who spoke on condition of anonymity. Soweto Police Brigadier Jan Coetzee banned reporters from the township last week in a separate edict.
Police headquarters in Pretoria said officers arrested 61 people ranging in age from 14 to 30 after an illegal gathering in Soweto, apparently referring to the funeral. Police said shots were fired at patrols in Soweto, who returned fire. They did not report any injuries.
Police headquarters reported scattered violence nationwide Saturday. Most consisted of rock-throwing and gasoline bombings in the Cape province, where clashes have gone on for months.
No new deaths were reported. Nationwide rioting against apartheid, under which there is racial segregation and which denies the black majority the vote, has claimed more than 850 lives in the past 14 months, according to unofficial counts.
The Foreign Correspondents Association said after an emergency meeting that the ban on recording sounds or pictures in the state-of-emergency zones ″raises alarming implications.″
″Public scrutiny of police and army actions will be impeded, and a news vacuum will develop in which rumors and distortions, from whatever quarter, will prevail,″ the association said.
″It is absurd to hold a small group of journalists responsible for a profound political conflict that has been going on for more than a year,″ it said.
In London, British officials summoned a South African diplomat to the Foreign Office Saturday to register displeasure over the new restrictions. The Foreign Office said in a statement:″We are very disturbed by these restrictions ... . They will do nothing to further the essential objective of promoting dialogue and peaceful change.″
Helen Suzman, a leader of South Africa’s opposition white Progressive Federal Party, called the new rules ″a very drastic form of censorship.″
″It could well have the effect of driving the unrest into the center of towns,″ she said. ″The feeling would be that if the media can’t see what’s going on in the townships, we’ll give them a taste of it in the towns.″
City Press, a Sunday paper for black readers, said in an editorial for Sunday editions, ″South Africa wakes up to the start of what is probably the darkest period since the Second World War. ... The government has launched its most severe assault on the freedom of the press and your right to have access to news.″
President P.W. Botha told the correspondents association Thursday night that South Africa was the victim of ″a well-orchestrated propaganda campaign″ that ignored what he called reforms in apartheid.
Botha pointed to local newspaper reports of foreign journalists paying rioters to stage incidents.
Louis Nel, head of the new Bureau of Information in the Foreign Ministry, said in a telephone interview from Cape Town that the new restrictions were unrelated to the allegations of unethical conduct.
″We will not act against the sins of the whole television community for the sins of the few,″ he said. ″What we are saying is that the government has become convinced that the mere presence of TV cameras often acts as a catalyst for further violence, and therefore we must control the situation.″
The new rules also require journalists covering the unrest to be registered with the Bureau of Information and the police. If unrest breaks out, newspaper reporters must report immediately to the senior police officer at the scene and can be ordered to leave. Film crews must leave as soon as there is any trouble.
There are 172 accredited foreign correspondents and 268 accredited local reporters in South Africa.
The pro-government South African Broadcasting Corp. rarely shows scenes of unrest, but South African newspapers often carry extensive photo coverage of rioting.