Right to silence
ANOTHER whistle-blower has been murdered, the second in the Guptalinked Estina saga (The Witness October 24). The first one being an auditor in the Free State Department of Agriculture.
By all accounts the victim, Philemon Ngwenya, was an outspoken person. His identity, therefore, would have been known to the perpetrators. So the question is not whether his cover was blown by the journalists breaking the story, but rather, were there sufficient protection measures in place with regards to his safety? It seems not.
The above sad situation impacts directly on the code of conduct for journalists, which is to keep the identity of whistle-blowers secret at all costs.
Conductors of multimillion rand scams, deals, dubious business ventures, etc. who stand to lose everything if found out, won’t hesitate to kill. Therefore, to put pressure on journalists to divulge the identities of their sources is to compromise their safety.
When one looks at South African society as a whole, and the Constitution, everyone, in his or her private capacity or work environment is seemingly protected insofar as freedom of speech is concerned. (Obviously not hate speech.) For instance, in an arrest situation, the well-known phrase: “You have the right to remain silent”, is heard. This is protection for the lawbreakers.
Journalists don’t have such protection. They are hounded and persecuted, even incarcerated, should they dare try to protect their sources. The only protection they have is their own principled, dedicated approach to abide by their code of conduct at all costs. This should guarantee, in a way, the safety of all concerned. Forced to violate this code of conduct would ultimately set in motion a negative chain reaction, from distrust to culminating eventually in an open season for criminally minded people and no more whistle-blowing.
There are still some strong and principled “old-school” journalists, such as Nicola Jones (The Witness, October 26) and others, around, who will not wilt.
However, more needs to be done to protect these journalists and their sources, especially the younger and less-experienced, so as to allow them to do their jobs without fear or prejudice.
No doubt there are the “bad apples”, but these can, and should, be weeded out.
I believe the answer to this dilemma, lies with the Constitution. It should be redressed to allow journalists “the right to remain silent”.