R2K urges the leadership of the police to issue a clear message to its members: citizens have a right to photograph and film police officers!
After another incident last week, in which a bystander who recorded police brutality on his phone was was arrested and held overnight, we have once again written to the head of police communications to demand that a clear and public message is sent to SAPS members on the ground that they must respect ordinary citizens’ right to photograph and film police activities.
This is the third time in six months that R2K has written to the SAPS national leadership on this issue.
Police have no legal basis to stop citizens from photographing and filming police activities.
This case of police brutality, documented on news website GroundUp.org.za last week, is just one recent example of a systemic problem in our police force. Yet it is only one of a handful of cases of police abuse that comes to public light.
When police officers are unaccountable and operate in a culture of impunity, it is vital that both professional journalists and ordinary members of the public are empowered to expose these abuses. Yet often those who do are harassed, intimidated, assaulted and wrongfully arrested after filming or taking photos of the police.
The police’s own regulations (Standing Order 156) also state that police may not interfere with media representatives who are filming and photographing them. But while it is clear that this should include ordinary bystanders – who have the same rights as professional journalists, and often perform the same functions – the Standing Order is silent on the rights of non-professional journalists, or citizen journalists. While we reiterate that there is no legal basis to stop any person from photographing and filming police activities, it is clear that this gap in the regulations is ripe for abuse.
We have urged the heads of SAPS communications to correct or clarify this, with letters sent to the now suspended Lt General Solomon Makgale in July and Oct 2015, and to acting head Hangwani Mulaudzi last week. We have yet to get a response.
In this day and age, ordinary members of the public play an increasingly critical role in news production. Who would have known about the horrific police brutality against Mido Macia if a bystander with a cellphone hadn’t filmed the incident? How many other cases of abuse at the hands of police go unnoticed because witnesses are made to delete photographs or footage?
SAPS leadership can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to this issue. We demand that our police service is answerable to the citizens it is supposed to serve!
Learn more and download the R2K advisory on the right to take photograph and film the police at www.r2k.org.za/filmthepolice.