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People take and share more photos now than ever before, and they are shared in many different ways, including social media. Hence Photography Law, especially as it pertains to journalists, has become very topical and should be dealt with in more detail.

Generally speaking, in South Africa, a photographer has the right to take photos of anyone or anything that can be seen from a public area. (So taking photos from streets, parks, concerts or sporting events is permitted).

Photographers employed by a community newspaper, however, usually deals with the lower South African courts and should note that this rule does not hold true for the court room.

A photograph or sketch of adults in criminal cases may not be published before the suspect is charged. (An arrested person is known as a suspect). In sexual offences cases only, the identity of the accused (a person who has been formally charged is known as the accused) may not be published in the time between being charged and pleading guilty/not guilty to the charge. The identities of adults or children in divorce cases may not be published without authorisation.

Isabel Venter, FCJ Director for the Limpopo Province, was able to learn more about what is expected from journalists and photographers before being allowed to take photographs inside the courtroom.

She found that courts are increasingly allowing access to journalists and photographers with few restrictions. Authorisation is obtained from the preceding magistrate, and can usually be obtained without any pesky paperwork by simply introducing oneself to him/her beforehand and stating your reasons for being there and needing photographs.  At this stage it is important to take note that is considered good manners to ask the state prosecutor to make the necessary introductions.

The correct and legal way, however, is to bring an application in terms the Regulations for Judicial Officers in the Lower Courts, No. R.361 of 11 March 1994.  

This document is constructed in a fairly self-explanatory manner that is easy to complete. The FCJ also took the time to compile an additional document that provides examples of reasons that can be supplied to convince the court why permission is needed to report on a particular court case. This document also contains a standard form that indemnifies the court from any liability in the case of damages to any camera or recording devices.

Once completed this document should be presented to the magistrate in his chambers (it is wise to check with the prosecutor when the magistrate is available).  

The magistrate will then request the accused person and their legal representative to be present; usually they will provide reasons why they would like the application to be rejected. TIP: From the get go point out that you will not be using a flash and that you will try to be done with your photographs as quickly and noiselessly as possible. In the case of video cameras or sound recording clearly explain how you’re going to set-up your equipment.  Most magistrates’ will make a favourable consideration to this because the intrusion will be kept at a minimum.  Get the application here: file (82.48 KB).