Reuters, APTN and ITN have called on the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, to intervene after a judge at the Old Bailey ordered them to hand over to South African police film of a vigilante killing .
The footage, which was shot by Reuters and APTN staff and obtained by ITN, is now being held by the Metropolitan Police after Judge David Paget approved an application from South Africa that tapes showing the 1996 killing of alleged drug baron Rashaad Staggie be surrendered to the Home Office.
The three news organisations have written to Blunkett in a last-ditch attempt to stop the handover of the tapes, which are being sought by the prosecution in the trial of five members of the Moslem movement People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (Pagad).
Appeals are also under way in the Cape Town courts to prevent the authorities seizing the material, as well as its admissibility in the trial.
The news organisations fear that use of the material in the trial of Pagad national co-ordinator Abdus-Salaam Ebrahim and four others could endanger their staff in a case in which five potential witnesses, a police investigator and a magistrate have been murdered.
The footage shows Staggie, who, with his twin brother, Rashied, was co-leader of the Hard Livings gang, being set alight, beaten and shot by masked men who caught him as he tried to escape from his home in the Salt River district of Cape Town.
Rodney Pinder, Reuters editor of video news, confirmed that the journalists involved had already received threats from Pagad. "As well as our obvious concern about protecting our staff, we don’t see it as the role of the news organisation to act as an information-gathering service for the state," he said.
A joint statement by the three organisations, issued after the three-day hearing at the Old Bailey last week, said: "Reuters, APTN and ITN each adheres to an established policy which recognises certain fundamentals governing the safety of their staff and the independence of news gathering from the prosecution process." There is also concern the journalists may be called to take the stand in Cape Town.
Paul Eia, the barrister for the defence in South Africa, said: "With this type of evidence, the prosecution has to prove that the tape is authentic and original. That means you pretty much have to call the cameraman to court to say he was there and made the recordings."
South African officials have been trying since 1998 to obtain original and copied video footage of the killing, which was witnessed by police and around 2,000 people following a Pagad-led march on Staggie’s home.
The offices of the South African Broadcasting Corporation, as well as Reuters and PA, were raided last year and editors of those organisations, as well as South African newspapers, were subpoenaed by the National Directorate for Public Prosecutions.
By Faisal Bodi