The South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) says it has had a positive and productive meeting with Zondo Commission of Inquiry held in Johannesburg on Friday.

In a statement, the organisation acknowledges the importance of the work carried out by the commission of inquiry.

“Sanef recognized the critical work of the Commission in uncovering corruption and state capture and endorsed the importance of protecting the integrity of the Commission and its work. With regard to the parties’ failure to hold a meeting towards the end of last year, both parties acknowledge that this was due to their failure to find a date that was suitable to everybody,” reads the statement in part.

The meeting comes after the Chairperson of the Commission Deputy Chief Justice, Raymond Zondo earlier this week described as unlawful the publishing of witness testimonies prior to being heard before the commission.

Sanef says the Zondo Commission has confirmed the importance of role of the media in ensuring the public’s right to know and access the content and proceedings of the Commission’s work.

“ … And the overall importance of this in strengthening South Africa’s constitutional principles of freedom of information, access to information and open justice. Both parties emphasized the need for the observance of the constitution and the law at all times.”

Issues on the agenda at the meeting included the regulations of the Commission, the timing of the release of Commission documents and allegations of a list of paid journalists.

Sanef says Regulation 11 (3) of the regulations applicable to the commission was discussed in some detail.

The regulation states:

No person shall without the written permission of the Chairperson –

(a)   Disseminate any document submitted to the Commission by any person in connection with the inquiry or publish the contents or any portion of the contents of such document, or

(b)   Peruse any document, including any statement, which is destined to be submitted to the Chairperson or intercept such document while it is being taken or forwarded to the Chairperson.

Sanef says it has expressed its concerns about the regulation.  “Sanef raised a number of concerns with this regulation including the concern that it prohibits journalists from accessing documents already in the public domain. Sanef and the Commission agreed to look at the legal implications of this issue and to take the matter further to ensure a careful balance between ensuring access to documents already in the public domain, and released by witnesses themselves, and further protecting the integrity of the Commission’s work and processes.”

The two parties also discussed the timing of the release of the Commission’s documents. “Sanef raised the importance of journalists having access to the full set of witness documents including annexures at the start of a witness testimony – in order to ensure in-depth and nuanced coverage of the issues. “

Sanef says the Commission will release witness’s statements to the media when a witness has dealt with all matters covered in his/her statement. “However, a special arrangement may be made for the Chairperson of the Commission to grant journalists accredited by the Commission permission to have access to documents and witness statements prior to a witness giving evidence or finishing giving evidence. In such a case the Chairperson will grant access on terms and conditions that he may stipulate.”

Sanef says it raised the allegation made that certain journalists were on the payroll of Bosasa to ensure positive coverage of the organisation.

“Sanef raised the serious dangers of this allegation in terms of casting aspersions on the journalism profession as a whole. The Commission informed Sanef that, as the evidence suggests that payments were made to journalists as bribes to cover-up corruption or turn a blind eye to State Capture; the Commission is bound to investigate this matter further as part of its work.”

Sanef says it welcomes the Commission’s response to the matter and has asked members of the public to forward any information they may have to the Commission. “Both parties acknowledged that there was a need to have on-going discussions in order to deal with other issues on which they may still wish to find common ground.”

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