SIMPLY for doing their work, journalists and their publications could face criminal charges or damage claims in terms of a new harassment bill approved by the Cabinet last week and due to go before Parliament, writes Chantelle Benjamin in Business Day.

A similar law in the UK is replacing libel lawsuits, and has seen injunctions taken against photographers in particular.

The Protection of Harassment Bill, is the result of an investigation by the South African Law Reform Commission, and is aimed primarily at protecting victims of stalking who are not covered by the Domestic Violence Act, in other words people being stalked but not by a domestic partner.

However, the South African National Editors Forum said in its submission to the commission it could have the unintended consequence of preventing journalists from doing their work, in-depth investigations in particular.

The definition of harassment was wide enough to include methods journalists used daily to obtain information in investigations.

Sanef member Raymond Louw said: “In order to secure an interview with such a person (who has become the subject of a public- interest inquiry) journalists may be required to adopt conduct such as ‘following, watching, pursuing or accosting’ a person ‘or loitering outside of or near the building or place’ where a person resides, works, carries on business, studies or happens to be.

“Sanef’s concern is that though the definition qualifies the conduct by stating that it must be ‘unreasonable’, in the absence of a preamble citing freedom of the media (clause 16 of the bill of rights) as a right to be specifically respected, due cognisance of the role of the media will not be respected, and journalists may be subjected to a protection order being served on them.”

Click here to read the full report, posted on Business Day's website.