- Sanef was shocked after an online attack on a News24 senior journalist.
- Bathabile Dlamini slated News24's Qaanitah Hunter in a series of tweets.
- Due to the defamatory nature of the tweets, News24 is pursuing legal action.
The South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) has expressed shock after a "harrowing online attack" on News24's political editor, Qaanitah Hunter, on social media.
ANC Women's League (ANCWL) president, Bathabile Dlamini, singled out Hunter in a series of tweets on Friday, in response to an article the journalist had written regarding an ANCWL meeting on Thursday night.
The meeting debated whether it should march in support of ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule.
Dlamini accused Hunter of lying, saying she was being paid to divide the ANC.
"She is a disgrace and she is an insult to the struggle for women's emancipation .She is the queen of patriachy and she has ametuerish and grovelling journalist [sic]," Dlamini tweeted.
In a statement, Sanef said: "Taking to Twitter - a social media platform that has become synonymous with the most vitriolic and atrocious attacks against mainly women journalists - the ANCWL president, who has 22 600 followers, accused Hunter of deliberately 'spreading lies' and being 'bankrolled' by a 'Master' to 'destroy the ANC'."
Her tweets also refer to Hunter as "misogynistic", "an insult to the struggle for women's emancipation", and labelled her as an "information peddler".
News24's lawyers have called for an unconditional retraction of the accusations. They have also called for an apology to be published and other platforms, due to the defamatory nature of the statements.
In legal correspondence to Dlamini, News24's lawyer, Willem de Klerk, described the statements as "clearly designed to harass, intimidate and threaten" Hunter.
"They are also highly defamatory of Ms Hunter, who is a senior journalist, whose political and investigative reporting won her many awards, including the Nat Nakasa award for brave and courageous journalism, and the Vodacom Journalist of the Year award in 2016 and 2017," the letter said.
"While you and the ANC Women's League are perfectly entitled to dispute the version of events at the meeting of the League on Thursday 6 May 2021 ... you are not entitled to harass, intimidate and defame persons, who express views contrary to your own."
A deadline of 24 hours was given for the public apology, after which further legal action would follow.
Dlamini missed this deadline, News24 editor-in-chief Adriaan Basson confirmed.
"Dlamini's unfortunate tweets are another example of how rogue politicians, here and globally, have weaponised social media to insult, denigrate and ultimately silence the work of critical journalists.
"We shall not succumb or quiver to Dlamini's disgusting behaviour in the name of women empowerment. We will continue to demand an apology and retraction in the right legal forum," Basson added.
The incident comes only a few days after International World Press Freedom Day was celebrated on 5 May.
"Sanef again reminds political and all sector leaders of the consequences of any attempts to intimidate journalists and the dangerous impact it has on media freedom.
"Media freedom is the lifeblood of our democracy and is protected by the Constitution," Sanef said.