Journalist Ranjeni Munusamy reported on allegations against the then National Director of Public Prosecutions   Bulelani Ngcuka of ‘spying for the apartheid government’. The allegations prompted a commission of enquiry being set up to investigate the allegations in detail. The commission subpoenaed Munusamy to court, to testify on the spy claims against Ngcuka and thereby revealing her source.

Munusamy had the contention that the questions that Mr Ngcuka’s attorney of record asked her, if answered would reveal her sources. She then brought an application to Bloemfontein High court, seeking to be granted protection against testifying against Judge Joos Hefer in the commission. Citing that section 16 of the Constitution of the republic of South Africa guaranteed the right to freedom of the press and this included protection of journalists that found themselves in the position that she (Munusamy) found herself in. This application was however denied and Munusamy was still expected to testify.

Munusamy then lodged an appeal to this decision to the Supreme Court of Appeal (“SCA”) and while the SCA appeal was still in process Judge Hefer allowed Munusamy not testify, noting that her testimony was not so essential that the commission would not continue without it. Judge Hefer indicated that it is not worth waiting for a drawn out SCA action, to finally continue the commission because of just this testimony.

The FXI during the process of the commission made submissions to the commission to articulate two important factors related to the implications compelling a journalist to testify in this particular circumstance. The first was the personal consequences that would befall a journalist who would testify in these circumstances. The second was the consequences that may befall the source when the journalist testifies. Among the points put forward was the risk to the personal safety of the journalist and the source, their immediate family, the journalist’s possible ostracisation by their peers, the potential infringement to the journalists right to freedom of trade occupation and profession.