- Self regulation of the media is an important aspect of our democracy. It is for this reason that institutions that promote and protect the self regulatory aspect of our media are respected and protected. Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) is concerned by the manner in which the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) has chosen to react to the ruling by the Broadcasting Complains Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) in the case of the SABC and the Mail and Guardian (M&G).
MMA respects the right of the SABC to pursue all available legal avenues to their fullest extent. However, we urge the BCCSA not to yield to the pressure and threats of the SABC. The reported threat made by the SABC to withdraw from the BCCSA is, in MMA’s view, not only churlish but also has other consequences that threaten the credibility of the SABC as well as the BCCSA.
How did we get here?
In November 2010 the SABC broadcast allegations by Robert Gumede (a high profile businessman) against Sam Sole (a journalist for M&G), accusing him of corruption and racism. The M&G claim to have not received a chance to respond to the allegations. Hence it lodged a complaint with the BCCSA.
During this time MMA did an analysis of the news item and found that indeed the SABC was clearly biased in favouring Mr Robert Gumede. For the full analysis go to www.mediamonitoringafrica.org.
In the first ruling, the BCCSA said claims made against Sole were unsubstantiated and the M&G was not given the chance to respond. The BCCSA ordered the SABC to broadcast a summary of the judgment during the SABC 3 7pm news bulletin on the 30th of March 2011. The SABC applied for leave to appeal the decision. The BCCSA dismissed the application for leave to appeal. The SABC has since argued that the refusal for leave to appeal itself constituted a gross procedural error.
The SABC threat to our self regulation
The SABC has since stated that it intends taking the matter on review to the Complaints and Compliance Committee (CCC) which is a committee of the Independent Communication Authority of South Africa (ICASA) set up in terms of the ICASA Act. MMA understands that the SABC is entitled to pursue all legal avenues available to it and does not deny the SABC’s right to take the matter to the CCC.
A matter of this kind can be taken to the CCC only if there is evidence that there was lack of jurisdiction, gross procedural irregularity, bias or a failure of natural justice. It would appear from the SABC that they are arguing in the main that because the Chairperson of the BCCSA had decided the original complaint he was not able to then refuse grounds for an appeal. (The SABC’s application for suspension of the BCCSA ruling will be available on MMA’s website www.mediamonitoringafrica.org).
In its response the M&G has argued that the Chairperson had applied his mind and came to reasonable conclusion and further that they would oppose an application for the decision to be taken on review. (The M&G’s answering affidavit will also be available on MMA’s website www.mediamonitoringafrica.org) While the outcome is still to be decided this is an important test for the BCCSA specifically and self regulation more broadly.
Our plea to the BCCSA
The M&G has reported that during the hearing on Wednesday the SABC counsel said:
“If any broadcaster (let alone the public service mandate and the public billions) defies it [BCCSA], the whole system could collapse. The result could bring the regulation of broadcast content much more directly under the sway of ICASA councilors, who are appointed by parliament. The SABC is well aware of this and its counsel”.
This is a significant threat, and while the SABC is perfectly entitled to withdraw from the BCCSA, it would be churlish in the extreme for it to do so, on the basis of a single ruling. That the SABC should even make such a threat should be of grave concern to the SABC Board as well as senior SABC management. Such behaviour is reminiscent of the SABC as Apartheid bully not a transformed public service broadcaster.
It must also be noted that the strength of self regulation relies to a significant degree on all key members subscribing to it. Accordingly, were the SABC to leave it would be a significant blow not only to the BCCSA but self regulation in general. While significant, it would not be fatal as there is no indication that any of the other broadcasters would leave the BCCSA. In view of this threat, MMA calls on all broadcasters to reaffirm their support of the BCCSA specifically and self regulation in general.
Were the SABC to follow through on its threat it would also have to resign from the industry body, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). Not only would this weaken the SABC's ability to promote its interests with other broadcasters it would also reduce the NAB's interest in promoting public service broadcasting. The biggest losers in this case would be ordinary citizens who rely on public service broadcasting interests to be promoted so their needs as audiences can be met. A further direct consequence would be that SABC would be subject to the rulings of the CCC and the ICASA code of conduct and no longer that of the BCCSA. In this regard there is no indication that, on the original complaint, the CCC would come to a different conclusion.
More problematic however with such a threat is that the BCCSA may be tempted to withdraw or change its judgment given the SABC’s power and dominance. MMA believes that it is absolutely critical that the BCCSA does not yield to the threat; and if the SABC does not make a formal application to the CCC and continues to defy the BCCSA, the BCCSA must take the SABC to court to ensure compliance..
The real test for self regulation is not when it is running smoothly, which by all accounts the BCCSA generally does, but when it is put under pressure from its members or from outside interests. The best outcome from the current challenge is for the BCCSA to hold firm, resist threats and stick to its mandate and for due process to be followed. If the CCC upholds the BCCSA’s ruling then we call on the SABC to apologise for the threat it made and to recommit itself to the BCCSA.
The way forward
William Bird Director of MMA said, "There is far more at stake than whether the SABC will abide by the ruling of the BCCSA or not. If the BCCSA yields to the threats and pressure not only will it demonstrate an absence of principle, it will also bring the entire BCCSA into a crisis of credibility. A crisis I am not sure it and the National Association of Broadcasters along with it would be able to survive."
For more information contact:
Media Monitoring Africa
Tel: +27 11 788 1278
Cell: +27 82 887 1370
Media Monitoring Africa
Tel: +27 11 788 1278
Cell:+27 74 690 1023
To view other NGO press releases, refer to www.ngopulse.org/group/home-page/pressreleases.
Date published:20/06/2011Organisation:Media Monitoring Africa
- If the South African Parliament pushes through the highly controversial Protection of Information Bill, the negative fallout in the region could be immense, said CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation today.
“We are witnessing a pervasive crackdown on the freedoms of expression, association and assembly across the African continent,” said Netsanet Belay, Policy and Research Director at CIVICUS. “At present, South Africa remains an island of democracy. But if the draconian secrecy bill is passed, this will change and further encourage authoritarian leaders in the region to inhibit democratic freedoms.”
The Protection of Information Bill is currently being discussed in committee by the South African Parliament. It contains a number of problematic provisions, establishing serious hurdles for the media and civil society to obtain information about official corruption mismanagement and government service delivery issues. The Bill gives government officials wide powers to prevent disclosure in the interests of “national security” which is broadly defined to cover a vast array of information.
“Passage of the Bill will lead to increased opaqueness in the functioning of government departments, making it extremely difficult for citizens to identify bottlenecks in the official machinery, inhibiting their access to constitutional entitlements and services,” said Dale McKinley of the Right 2 Know Campaign. “South Africa has a constitutional commitment to ‘accountability, responsiveness and openness.’ This bill goes a long way in negating these values for which the struggle against apartheid was waged and upon which the edifice of South African democracy stands.”
The Bill applies to all organs of the state, which includes national and provincial government departments, independent commissions, municipal and local councils and forums. It empowers the Minister of State Security to “prescribe broad categories and sub-categories” to classify information to prevent it from entering the public sphere. The heads of government departments are further empowered to put in place departmental policies, directives and categories for the purpose of classifying and declassifying information.
The Bill also contains draconian punishments ranging up to 25 years in prison for a host of offences, including obtaining, possessing, intercepting and disclosing classified information. South African journalists and civil society activists are extremely anxious about their ability to pursue their quest for the truth in the future. Notably, the bill has no clause to protect the disclosure of information in the ‘public interest.’
CIVICUS calls upon the South African Parliament to reject this “anti-people” bill in its totality. “It not only negates constitutional freedoms at home but also tarnishes South Africa’s reputation as a leading democracy and emerging voice of conscience from the global south,” said Belay.
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global movement of civil society dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society across the world. CIVICUS is part of the Right 2 Know Campaign, a coalition of people and organisations united in the struggle for the right to information and opposed to the Protection of Information Bill, which threatens hard won constitutional rights including access to information and freedom of expression in South Africa.
For more information contact:
Project Coordinator, Every Human Has Rights
For more about CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, refer to www.civicus.org.
To view other NGO press releases, refer to www.ngopulse.org/group/home-page/pressreleases.Date published:09/06/2011Organisation:CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
- President Jacob Zuma has appointed Carole Vale, Nadia Bulbulia and Phelisa Nkomo, to the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) board.
In a press statement, the Presidency says the three were appointed in terms of Section 8 (2) of the Media Development and Diversity Agency Act, following recommendations from the National Assembly.
President Zuma especially thanked the sterling work and outstanding service to the board of the three outgoing members – Guy Berger, Siviwe Minyi and Nomonde Gongxeka - whose terms of office expired on 31 December 2010.
To read the article titled, “President Jacob Zuma has appointed three members to the Media Development and Diversity Agency board, says his office,” click here.Source:Sunday Times
- African National Congress (ANC) veteran, Pallo Jordan, has sharply criticised the party’s plans for a media tribunal and the Protection of Information Bill, saying attempts to muzzle the modern media are a ‘fool’s errand’.
Jordan warns that the party is backing itself into a ‘lose-lose situation’, and it risks losing its credibility as a campaigner for media freedom, and the Bill possibly failing a mooted constitutional challenge.
In the same vein, Jordan criticised constitutional lawyers, saying they should have stepped into the breach when the media tribunal and information bill were first put on the table, not to be critical but to ensure the legislation is a co-operative work.
To read the article titled, “Media gag ‘a fool’s errand’- Jordan,” click here.Source:Business Day
- His Excellency Jacob Zuma President of the Republic of South Africa Union Buildings Private Bag X1000, Pretoria, 0001 South Africa BY FAX: +27 12 323 8246 19 August 2010 Your Excellency, We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries, to express our serious concern at two recent moves by the ruling ANC that seriously threaten press freedom in South Africa. The Protection of Information Bill currently before parliament seeks to replace apartheid-era legislation with far-reaching provisions that would virtually shield the government from press scrutiny and criminalize activities essential to investigative journalism. Under the bill, officials would be empowered to classify any public or commercial data as confidential on vaguely defined "national interest" grounds without having to give any explanation. Such powers could be used to outlaw coverage of such issues as public law enforcement and judicial matters, with political appointees having the final say over which information should be classified. One of the serious deficiencies in the legislation is that there is no provision for a "public interest" defence by journalists and others to support the disclosure of classified information. Anyone found guilty of unauthorized disclosure of official or classified information could face heavy penalties. We are also seriously concerned at an ANC proposal that parliament appoint a Media Appeals Tribunal to adjudicate on complaints against the press. Such a government-appointed agency could be used as an instrument of political censorship, as has happened many times across Africa, and members would inevitably face an inherent conflict of interest. We respectfully remind you that an effective self-regulatory system, including a Press Ombudsman and an Appeals Panel, is already in place and has repeatedly been shown to act with neutrality. We bring to your attention the Declaration of Table Mountain, endorsed at the 60th World Newspaper Congress and 14th Editors Forum in Cape Town in June 2007 and recently signed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in July 2010. The Declaration of Table Mountain, among other things, calls on African states to promote the highest standards of press freedom in furtherance of the principles proclaimed in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other protocols and to provide constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press. We respectfully call on you to ensure that the Protection of Information Bill and the Media Appeals Tribunals proposal are either amended in line with constitutional safeguards for freedom of the press or withdrawn altogether. We ask that you ensure that any future media reform in South Africa fully respects international standards of press freedom. We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience. Yours sincerely, Gavin O'Reilly President World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers Xavier Vidal-Folch President : World Editors Forum ________________________________________ WAN-IFRA is the global organization for the world's newspapers and news publishers, with formal representative status at the United Nations, UNESCO and the Council of Europe. The organization groups 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries. ________________________________________
- Former South African President, Nelson Mandela, reminded us in 1994 that: “A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy.” 16 years into democracy, opposition parties, civil society, activists and other stakeholders are facing new realities associated with our democracy - the proposed Protection of Information Bill and Media Appeals Tribunal (MAT).
The Alternative Information Development Centre (AIDC) has criticised the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) for tabling plans to censor and punish the media for reporting on corruption, when they are unable to maintain organisational discipline.
The AIDC is of the view that instead of striving to extend freedoms and access to information to all South Africans, the ANC-led government is targeting a series of freedoms that will further curtail media freedom.
“The ‘people shall not govern’ if they are not informed and cannot express their views. There can be no meaningful development or service delivery responsive to the needs of the people without the freedom of expression and information,” states the AIDC.
Contrary to the ANC's claim that the idea of the statutory MAT will strengthen media accountability, there is a feeling that it will constitute a step towards official media censorship. South Africa already has a self regulatory body in the form of a Press Ombudsman to oversee complaints of violations of the media code of conduct adopted by the Press Council.
In a recent press statement, 19 civil society organisations (CSOs) called on government to caution relevant authorities against misuse of the power of arrest against those who exercise democratic dissent and to also withdraw the Bill in its present form as it is severely obstructive of people’s right to information. They also want government to take adequate measures to ensure that the right to express freely is protected from encroachments.
Apart from promoting censorship, activists fear that the proposed Bill and the MAT could also be used to target citizens in the long run. Speaking during the Mail&Guardian Critical Thinking Forum in Johannesburg, Anton Harber, Caxton Professor of journalism and media studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, warned that people and even CSOs will no longer feel free to write news stories denouncing corrupt officials.
"The minute you give that power to the state or government to make those decisions, it will in the long run have the potential to be used, not only against journalists, but also against other citizens," warned Harber.
Harber’s view is somehow reiterated by former University of Cape Town chancellor, Dr Mamphele Ramphele, who warned that if enacted, the Protection of Information Bill could well be used to make the society less open and less accountable. Speaking at the recent launch of the Open Society Foundation’s Open Society Monitoring Index, Mamphele maintained that, “Citizens could be deprived of information and, ultimately, freedom of expression would be inhibited, if not choked altogether, for fear of the punitive measures the Bill contains.”
Botswana and Zimbabwe
In Botswana, government introduced the controversial Media Practitioners Act. According to CSOs the Act’s right to reply clause threatens the independence of the media in that country. Under the Act, media practitioners are required to register and accredit with the Media Council and allows for stringent fines and imprisonment’ of journalists.
In Zimbabwe, the imprisonment of journalists and human rights activists after the introduction of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act tells a story of a country with no media freedom. Despite a constitutional provision guaranteeing freedom of the press, the country had deported many foreign journalists.
We have been reliably informed that journalists are now forced to address President Robert Mugabe as: Head of State and Government, the commander-in-chief of the Zimbabwe defence forces and first secretary of ZANU-PF, Robert Mugabe, when writing news.
Outside our country, the International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, publishers and journalists, has come to the defence of media freedom in South Africa. In an open letter to President Jacob Zuma, the IPI calls on the country to halt the establishment of a mooted MAT and withdraw or amend the Protection of Information Bill.
IPI interim director, Alison Bethel-McKenzie, argues that, “...any Media Appeals Tribunal will not be independent. If the MAT is appointed by parliament, it will face an inherent conflict of interest that will skew its rulings in favour of public and party officials and essentially amount to government oversight of the media - which is unacceptable.”
In conclusion, Reporters Without Borders’ Worldwide Press Freedom Index ranked South Africa in 26th position in 2002 of the countries said to have ‘genuine press freedom’. South Africa was ranked 33rd in 2009, an indication that the country risks reversing the gains it made since the inception of democracy in terms of media freedom.
- Butjwana Seokoma is information coordinator at SANGONeT.
- Proposed Laws Will Silence Critics – NGO
- Govt Might Target CSOs Over Funding and Activities
- ANC Urged to Remove MAT from its Agenda
- IPI Criticises SA Over Media Freedom
- Zuma: ANC Not Trying to Control the Media
- Civil Society Deeply Concerned About Roll Back in Democratic Freedoms in South Africa
- MISA – SA Favours ‘Self-Regulatory’ Media
- Call to Defend, Advance Freedom of Expression
- MISA-SA Calls for Secrecy Bill and ANC tribunal Plan to be Withdrawn
- Protection of Information Bill and Media Appeals Tribunal are Serious Blows to the Freedom of Expression of the Unemployed
- The South African Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-SA), has been deeply alarmed at the contents of the Protection of Information Bill and the proposals by the African National Congress (ANC) to set up a statutory Media Appeals Tribunal. MISA-SA fears that both will clamp down on the free flow of information and the media's ability to gather and publish information for the benefit of the public.
MISA-SA has been saddened, too, by a view that though there are many concerned members of the public who share the media's concerns about these two developments and the restrictive effects they will have on the public's right to know, the general public at large does not appear to realise that perhaps its most vital freedoms - its own freedom of expression and access to information - is under extreme threat.
There is a curious view prevalent among the public that media freedom is some special attribute that is the prerogative of the few thousand journalists, editors, publishers and writers in the country. In reality, however, “media freedom'” is no more and no less than the people's freedom. Indeed, media freedom is everybody's freedom. When media freedom is eliminated, it is also the end of the man-in-the-street's freedom.
The Bill, which is intended to define what information should be declared by the state to be secret, has many worrying aspects, the prime one being that, unlike state secrecy laws in other democracies, it defines information that can be classified as secret as that which may harm the “national interest”. Its definition of the “national interest’’ is so broad as to include every kind of activity that all levels of government and civil society are engaged in. This could have the effect that information that should be available to the public is classified and thus kept secret. For journalists the danger is that they may come into possession of classified in formation from a whistle-blower which could expose them to lengthy prisons terms. It could stifle investigative reporting.The Media Appeals Tribunal is seen by journalists as a mechanism to control the press and force it to publish news that pleases the government. The ANC disclosed its aims in the discussion document prepared for the ANC's national general council meeting to be held next month. The document stated: “Our objectives therefore are to vigorously communicate the ANC's outlook and values versus the current mainstream media's ideological outlook.
It reinforces this with: “The ANC is of the view that the media needs to contribute towards the building of a new society and be accountable for its actions ....'' and “It is our responsibility further, as we set the agenda for change that we dominate the battle of ideas and that our voice is consistently heard and that it is above the rest.''
The views of the editors are not alone. Civil society organisations have supported their objections, among them the powerful and independent Law Society of South Africa which issued a considered statement on 13 August, saying that the Bill and the tribunal were “constitutionally suspect”.
It added that each had the potential seriously to erode transparency, accountability by public officials and the public's right of access to information and media freedom and the fact that the tribunal would be accountable to parliament was “cold comfort'” because “ultimately what this would amount to was government oversight over the media, which could not be countenanced in a democratic state.”
MISA-SA has noted that Chairman Cecil Burgess of the Parliamentary Ad Hoc committee dealing with objections has admitted that the Bill has some “bad qualities'”. In light of that the appropriate step by Burgess is to withdraw the Bill and get rid of the “bad qualities”.
And the ANC is well-advised to drop its plan for a tribunal and a return to apartheid-style attempts to restrict and control the media be stopped. //End//
Tell: +27 11 339 6767
Fax: + 27 11 339 9888
The Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) is a regional membership–based non–government organization working for free, independent, pluralistic, sustainable media environment. MISA's memberships are based in 11 of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) countries. Officially launched in September 1992, MISA focuses primarily on the need to promote free, independent and pluralistic media , as envisaged in the 1991 Windhoek Declaration.Date published:16/08/2010Organisation:South African Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-SA)
Protection of Information Bill and Media Appeals Tribunal are Serious Blows to the Freedom of Expression of the UnemployedIn 2009 the Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM) submitted a request in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act of 2000. We filled in the forms in January 2010 requesting all the documents pertaining the hiring of Human Resource Manager Mr Ndwayana, including the information pertaining the hiring of Library East cleaner. We submitted the request because we were quite aware that in terms of the hiring policy, a candidate who gets the highest score must be eligible to fill the vacant post. However this was not the case when the Human Resource Manager was employed at Makana Municipality. Mr Ndwayana was a preferred candidate because of his close political and personal ties with the Director for Corporate Services, Mr Thabiso Klass. To this day they have literally and wittingly refused to comply and provide the UPM with the records.
There is land in Grahamstown, Cradock Heights (suburbs area) that belonged to the public; in early 2000 under the mayoral ship of Vumile Lwana, the councillors distributed the land among themselves. The public exerted pressure that a criminal case must be opened and an investigation must be carried out. To this day, there has been no report on the investigation, and the matter has been dragging for ages.
The UPM is also fighting for the community of Vukani to have their houses rebuilt because of poor workmanship and to also have the houses put Eastern Cape provincial government’s rectification list. The Daily Dispatch newspaper has been very helpful in our efforts to expose the state of Vukani houses in Grahamstown. UPM activist Nomiki Ncamiso died due to pneumonia-related diseases because of the state of the house she lived in. The front wall fell on her leg and she was hospitalised after sustaining injuries. They reported the matter to Makana Municipality; they were given black plastic bags to cover the whole front of the wall; these conditions undoubtedly contributed to her death. The list of corruption is endless; to cover it I will have to write a book.
The Promotion of Access to Information Act could potentially be an instrument for us as UPM to uncover corruption, if the Municipality did not simply ignore our requests. The news of the proposed bill, the Protection of Information Bill, is a blow. In fact it the complete negation of democracy, and will make it even more difficult, if not impossible to expose corruption at Municipal level. Many Municipalities are collapsing under the weight of corruption, and if conditions of poverty and unemployment are to be addressed, then corruption needs to be rooted out of local governments. Had it not been for the Constitutional right of access to information, we would not have uncovered that the Zuma regime spent R1.5 billion of taxpayers money on luxuries. Some of the expenditure includes Lindiwe Sisulu’s purchase of a R7million Mercedes – Benz vehicle. Siphiwe Nyanda who spent R515 000 dining with girlfriends and boyfriends at different five star luxurious hotels. We would not have uncovered that Jacob Zuma’s son, Duduzane Zuma is heading for his first billion while Kgalema Montlante’s lover is also going for her first billion. Reporting on such issues will become even more impossible of a statutory Media Appeals Tribunal is set up.
This does mean that the media are angels. Let me paraphrase American journalist and economist John Swinton when he writes; “There is no such thing as an independent press. You know it and I know it. There is not one of you who dare write his honest opinions, and if you did you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid for keeping my honest opinions out of the paper; others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, any of you who would be foolish as to write his honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job. We are the tools and vassals of rich man behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks; they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, possibilities and lives are all the property of other man. We are the intellectual prostitutes.”
But does the problem of the media’s lack of independence require the introduction of a new Act, the Protection of Information Bill, as well as a Media Appeals Tribunal? This seems to be like curing the patient by giving it poison rather than medicine. The Protection of Information Bill and the Media Appeals Tribunal are nothing but attempts by the ruling party to monopolize the press. The proposed Bill and Tribunal have absolutely nothing to do with freeing the press from the yolk of capital. It is the very same capital that acts through the ruling party and continues to dominate economic power. It is the ruling party that has embraced neo-liberalism, where the state is simply an organizing tool for maximizing the profits of private industry. Inequality is deepening in our country and the majority of people live below poverty line. The ideas of the ruling class cannot be crushed through pieces of legislation that control what the media say; however they must be challenged at production level. The media must also be transformed and genuinely democratized so that really give a voice to the poor; this will not happen if the ANC pursues these Bills, and true transformation of the media is not their intention anyway: control is.
We are all dragged to the grave by the abominations of capital; through curable diseases, poverty and unemployment. We will never oppose any move by the government to shift to the left. However any attempts to use the apparatus of the bourgeois state of the ruling class which serves the ruling class rights for the purpose of abolishing those rights, are doomed to fail Comrade Blade Nzimande. You should remember this part.
Cell: 078 6256 462
E-mail: email@example.comDate published:15/08/2010Organisation:Unemployed People’s Movement
- The South African chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-SA) is deeply concerned with the host of legislative and policy proposals under discussion. The Broadcasting Bill, Protection of Information Bill and Media Appeals Tribunal are significantly threatening media freedom in South Africa. The proposed legislation and policy seeks to oversee and control how the media must be regulated.
The broadcasting bill raised up a number of issues of concern around editorial, HR independence and giving more powers to the minister of communications. The Protection of Information Bill branded as “secrecy bill” has completely ousted the Promotion of Access to Information Act 2 of 2000. The media appeals tribunal will foresee journalists are held accountable.
A recalling arrest of Mzilikazi wa Africa, Sunday Times journalist recently has put disbelieve in facts put down by police and ruling party ANC that the media is over-reacting on legislation brought forward. Wa Africa’s arrest was politically motivated, admittedly said by the investigative officer responsible on the case.
MISA-SA is of the view that police were aware of the meeting that was held at the Sunday Times offices on 4 August 2010, where wa Africa was arrested. Reporters and editors had just finished a meeting discussing the media tribunal and other related issues seen as a threat to media freedom witnessed the arrest.
MISA-SA condemns the manner in which police conducted themselves during his arrest and denying media coverage. It is truly in violation of the freedom of the media and the public’s right to know as enshrined in the constitution.
This damning behaviour by the police raises a number of questions around the real motive of the proposed legislation and policy. Also, believing that the media must remain self-regulatory.
Since the proposed legislation has been brought forward journalists are living in fear of their lives. A City Press journalist Sizwe SamaYende is under 24 hour protection after narrowly evading a gunman who ambushed him at his home on 6 August 2010 [Friday night]. SamaYende and Mzilikazi are added on a list of journalists who write critically about Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza.
The “secrecy bill” is yet to be enacted but already journalists are being violated. Editors had to meet with the government to resolve these burning issues. ANC has claimed that majority of citizens are in support of the media tribunal, “majority of South Africans who have commented on this proposal supports the idea,” party said. However, the ruling party appears to want to discredit any criticism of the plan. Jackson Mthembu party spokesman facts are based on individuals who visit the party website, who could also make biased comments. Noting that most recent three newspapers had to print retractions ruled by the press ombudsman. These retractions are based on poor journalism and nothing else.
What is peculiar is that a number of opposition parties oppose proposed legislation including the Democratic Alliance (DA). The DA has warned that the bills will centralize powers in ANC and has – in waiting scheduled a meeting with the president in a bit to convince him to withdraw the “secrecy bill.”
MISA-SA sees the bills as unconstitutional and there should be no media appeals tribunal. We strongly condemn the ANC for considering taking the bill into law without thorough consultations. MISA-SA urges like-minded organizations and the ANC to call on round-table discussion that will include the above and allow proper conduct of setting up legislation occur.
Also, we take note of Jeremy Cronin, deputy secretary-general of South African Communist Party and Floyd Shivambu, African National Congress Youth League spokesman, giving more unsatisfactory justification for such body [MAT]
Faiza Abrahams Smith
MISA-SA: National Director
Tell: +27 11 339 6767
Fax: +27 11 339 9888
Website: www.misa-sa.org.zaDate published:13/08/2010Organisation:Media Institute of Southern Africa - South Africa
- Defend and Advance the Freedom of Expression for All!
AIDC Statement on the threats to Press Freedom
Press Freedom is a right enjoyed by a privileged minority of South Africans. Our print media is controlled by a cartel of four corporations. Broadcast Media is dominated by the SABC. The profiteering of private media and commercialization of the SABC have seen the mass media catering to the expression and information needs of lucrative markets (LSM 8- 10) representing under 15% of South Africans.
Rather than striving to extend the freedoms of expression and access to information to all South Africans, the ANC government is perusing a series of reforms that will further curtail these freedoms:
- The Protection of Information Bill allows every organ of state - from government departments and parastatals to the smallest municipality - to throw a blanket of secrecy over its documents. If the law is passed whistle blowers leaking, and journalists reporting, on these documents can face up to 25 years in jail;
- The ICASA Amendment Bill gives the Minster of Communications powers to determine the functions of individual ICASA councilors and to conduct performance appraisals of councilors;
- The Public Service Broadcasting Bill narrows the social mandate of community and public broadcasters to serve the "developmental goals of the Republic" and extends the powers of the Minister of Communications over the SABC and municipal officials over community radio;
- The proposed Media Appeals Tribunal will introduce formal censorship to print media limiting the role of the media in ensuring transparent and accountable government.
These threats to the media freedom signal the growing influence of conservative authoritarianism in our body politic. We have witnessed various expressions of this including the attempts by some traditional leaders, through the House of Traditional Leaders, to revive the apartheid era social, political and economic control of the country-side through the post-apartheid legislation that is ironically built on the tribal authorities, tribal boundaries and other undemocratic foundations of the hated Black Authorities Act of 1951; the ongoing violence against women, the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs’ efforts to censor the internet, rising xenophobia, the use of state violence against community protests, the City of Cape Town turning on a corruption whistle-blower by freezing his salary, and the ‘Scorpions’ style arrest of Sunday Times journalist, Mzilikazi wa Afrika, designed to intimidate the media.
The rise of conservative authoritarianism can best be understood against the backdrop of South Africa’s deepening economic crisis. South Africa is the most unequal society in the world (the richest 10% of South Africans take home 54.4% of all household income while the poorest 50% share only 8.3% of household income). In the past year we have lost over 1 000 000 jobs. In the past six months 232,000 people lost their jobs. It is conservatively estimated that every worker supports 5 dependants, so it is safe to say that more than a million South Africans have lost their primary source of income this year alone.
The majority of South Africans are understandably worried and look to their leaders and the media for explanation and direction. Rather than addressing the causes of the crisis and debating alternative economic polices, political leaders and the commercialized media fall back on populism/sensationalism intended to distract and entertain rather than facilitate a meaningful public discussion on the future of our country. Both political leaders and the media offer scapegoats. The commercial media gives us ‘corrupt politicians’ and ‘greedy trade unions’ while political leaders add the ‘unpatriotic media’ to the list.
The tendency towards greater conservative authoritarianism must also be understood in the context of the battle between various factions and groups fighting for influence in the ruling party and the state. Many of these groups see the state as an avenue for the primitive accumulation of wealth while few have a more pro-poor agenda. The ‘alliance of the wounded’ cobbled together pre-Polokwane, is weakening, and its fissures rupturing. The mass media has become a battle ground for these groups as regular leaks expose the kleptomaniacal tendencies of aspirant comprador capitalists.
Sections of the ANC and SACP leadership, unable to maintain organizational discipline, have turned on the media with proposals to censor and punish reporting on corruption. The vast majority of reports focusing on the personal and business lives of public figures are undoubtedly in the public interest. It is disappointing that so few of these reports are given the appropriate attention on the public broadcaster.
On Media Monopolies, Diversity, and 16 years of Neo-liberalism
South Africa’s democracy requires a diverse media that facilitates free expression and the access to information in the interests of the working class and the poor. Instead, ‘media freedom’ in South Africa amounts to a print media controlled by four big companies (one Irish owned), a public broadcaster controlled by competing political elites, and a array of community and small commercial media projects with little hope of meaningful sustainability.
The ANC, despite various progressive conference resolutions, have failed to diversify the South African media. Sixteen years of neo-liberal ANC government policies have resulted in the consolidation of private media monopolies and the commercialization of public and community broadcasting.
The policy emphasis on market profitability has ensured that all media (commercial, public, community) orientate their editorial and programming to meeting the needs and addressing the anxieties of a tiny (largely urban and wealthy) section of the population. This competition for a limited audience has driven a uniformity of content where media strive not to offend but to affirm the prejudices of South Africa’s urban and rural elite.
Government under funding of the SABC and the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) coupled with tax, trade and competition policy have restricted media diversity and promoted the greater concentration of commercial media ownership as companies position themselves to expand into Africa – challenging the diversity of media elsewhere.
Sixteen years of neo-liberalism have also impacted newsrooms across our media. The drive to generate income and maximize profit has seen the cutting of editorial budgets resulting in fewer less experienced media workers with greater workloads. This undermines the capacity of the media workers to undertake investigative reporting and makes them increasingly reliant on press statements and sources provided by South African’s expansive corporate and government public relations industry. The consolidation and profiteering of media monopolies (commercial and public) has also meant that syndication plays a greater role in media production. South Africans can read tens of newspapers or listen to many radio stations only to receive the same version of a story produced by a news agency or centralized SABC newsroom.
In as far as they under fund our country’s newsrooms, media owners also pose a threat to our freedom of expression and access to information.
Call to Defend & Advance the Freedom of Expression for All!
The right of free expression and the right to dignity are indivisible. The right of free expression and access to information are enabling rights at the foundation of our democracy. The ‘people shall not govern’ if they have are not informed and cannot express their views. There can be no meaningful development or service delivery responsive to the needs of the people without the freedom of expression and information.
AIDC calls on the ANC and the ANC government to:
1. Implement the Polokwane resolutions calling for greater funding for the SABC and the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) to ensure that public and community media can serve the public interest free of commercial pressures. This should include a Media Diversity Tax on commercial media;
2. Remove the censorious Protection of Information Bill from Parliament before it is challenged in the Constitutional Court.
3. Redraft the ICASA Amendment and the Public Service Broadcasting Bill ensuring the Minister of Communications and municipalities to not exercise undue control over community and public broadcasting;
4. Abandon the proposed legislated Media Appeals Tribunal (MAT) and work with the commercial media to ensure that the Press Ombudsman and BCCSA have the necessary resources and credibility to perform their prescribed role with speed and greater balance. They should also have powers to fine media houses they find have intentionally violate their Codes of Ethics;
5. Pursue anti-trust legislation to break up the monopoly ownership of commercial media;
6. Take disciplinary action against members and officials accused of bribing or threatening journalists.
We call on all South Africans – trade unions and social movements in particular – to intensify the struggle to defend and advance the freedom of expression and access to information for all South Africans. Media Freedom is in everyone’s interests. An informed and active majority is the ultimate insurance against authoritarianism and the abuse of power.
The majority of South Africans, poorly served by the current private and public media monopolies, must unite to forge a media democracy movement with the strength to defend the freedom of expression and demand a diversified media that sees the flourishing of alternative and democratic community controlled print and broadcast media.
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Issued by the Alternative Information Development Centre (AIDC). AIDC is a social justice NGO that produces alternative knowledge and works to build institutional capacity of community media projects and the communication capacity of progressive civil society.
Contact Mark Weinberg on 0214472525, email firstname.lastname@example.org , or visit www.aidc.org.za.
Read AIDC’s Amandla! magazine (www.amandla.org.za)Date published:13/08/2010Organisation:Alternative Information Development Centre