- South African journalists have launched a campaign to fight what they say is an attempt to curtail media freedoms in a nation known for one of Africa's freest and most open Constitutions.
In a declaration published in all main Sunday newspapers, the South African National Editors' Forum says media restrictions proposed by the African National Congress threaten free expression that is the ‘lifeblood’ of the country's democracy since the end of apartheid-era rule in 1994.
The statement, signed by 36 of the country's prominent editors, calls for restrictions posed by the proposed Protection of Information laws and the Media Appeals Tribunal to be abandoned immediately.
To read the article titled, “SA journalists fight proposed media laws,” click here.Source:Mail&Guardian
- Press Release
6 August 2010
The FXI views recent developments in the media environment as cause for considerable concern.
Amidst renewed calls for a media appeals tribunal by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and its alliance partner the South African Communist Party (SACP), various incidents over the recent past have exacerbated fears about attempts by the state to gain greater control over the media. At the other end of the spectrum, concerns have been voiced about journalistic professionalism and inept attempts to control media workers from within media organisations. All this comes at a time when several pieces of legislation currently under consideration by the state could seriously limit freedom of expression and particularly, freedom of the media. The most draconian of these is potentially the Protection of Information Bill currently before parliament, on which the FXI has made submissions, and which was analysed in a separate press release.
The day after his story exposing alleged irregularities in tender proceedings within the police service was published, Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika was arrested at his workplace by a large contingent of policemen. Combined with the insistence by members of government that the Protection of Information Bill should be passed despite its sweeping ambit and its potential to severely limit the scope of investigative journalism, wa Afrika’s arrest has widely been interpreted as a threat to media freedom and a harbinger of future attempts to limit the press. Wa Afrika has since been released on bail.
Secondly, the ANC has published a discussion document on “Media Transformation, Ownership and Diversity”, in which calls for a media appeals tribunal are re-iterated. The SACP’s General Secretary, Blade Nzimande, has also called for a “a media tribunal that will hold journalists accountable” and for punitive measures against journalists who publish false reports.
The Times newspaper, under the headline “Jail Journalists- Nzimande”, misrepresented Nzimande’s statement, and subsequently issued a weak retraction. By contrast, in the same week, the Business Day newspaper prominently featured a front-page apology to a cabinet minister for publishing a story from a single uncorroborated source.
Several of the criticisms regarding monopolies on media ownership and the need to ensure that media practitioners adhere to a code of ethics are valid ones. Media practitioners are not above the law and must operate within the parameters of responsibility and accountability, acknowledging mistakes with dignity and grace when these occur. They must also be able to function without fear of political intimidation or punishment when what they report is not flattering to those in power.
The FXI does not believe that the proposed legislation currently being considered presents appropriate solutions to the problems noted here. Nor is a state-controlled media appeals tribunal the answer. Instead, such measures will create new problems that could further impact the right of the South African public to access a diverse range of independent media who can operate without fear, favour or prejudice.
Rather, criticisms of the current Press Ombud’s Office need to be constructively addressed in order to strengthen the Ombud and enable it to be more proactive. An analysis of best practice in countries that enjoy a vibrant and diverse media environment might be useful in this regard.
Various high-ranking members of government have attempted to reassure practitioners that the proposed legislation and other measures are not intended to limit free expression and independent media. While this may be so, governments and domestic polity change, but laws often endure through various administrations. Legislation such as the Protection of Information Bill, which would confer extremely wide-ranging powers to classify information on the pretext of ‘national interest’, could potentially be used by a more conservative future administration for repressive purposes. In the southern African region alone, there are sobering examples that highlight the manipulation of existing laws by regimes seeking to limit free expression and independent media. South Africans need to be vigilant to ensure that no law enters the statute books that could, at some point, be used to suppress the hard-won freedoms that comprise our Bill of Rights.
Finally, Avusa Media has suspended journalist Mawande Jack, president of the Mandela Bay Media Association, reportedly for recruiting co-workers into the Communications Workers Union (CWU), and distributing union materials to co-workers. Reports indicate that this is not the first time Avusa in the Eastern Cape has moved to limit the rights of its employees to join unions and participate in their activities. A picket protest was organised outside Avusa’s Port Elizabeth offices in solidarity with Mr Jack on Thursday and Friday. Given the fears of state-driven limitations on freedom of expression noted above, it is ironic that a major media house is seemingly intent on limiting the rights of its own employees. The FXI urges all media organs to uphold the constitutional rights of employees, including the rights to freedom of association and to freely access and impart information.
The FXI is committed to protecting and advancing the right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in the South African constitution, together with the associated rights to access and impart information, and to freedom of the media.
Enquiries: Ayesha Kajee, Executive Director, Freedom of Expression Institute
Phone: 083 500 74 86Date published:06/08/2010Organisation:Freedom of Expression Institute
- Press Release
9 August 2010
Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) is deeply concerned about the disproportionate and unbalanced accusations about the print media and its journalists made by the ANC in its discussion document: 2010 - Media Transformation, ownership and diversity.
MMA acknowledges that there are key issues facing the print media:
- Concentration of ownership vs. the need for diversity of ownership
- Commercial imperatives and sensationalism at the expense of the public interest
- The need to strengthen the current self-regulatory system
- Equality and accessibility
- Media freedom accompanied by responsible and ethical reporting
The document unambiguously accuses the media of irresponsible and unfair reporting. However it could be accused of doing the very thing that it condemns, making unsubstantiated accusations:
- It suggests that Parliament would appoint those sitting on a MAT: “this will guarantee independence, transparency, accountability and fairness” (point 106). This argument is flawed as Parliament is currently dominated by the ANC and as such, is naturally weighted in favour of this party and its policies.
- The document asserts that the Press Ombudsman is not independent as he is a former journalist. It suggests he therefore demonstrates bias towards the media (point 98). However it provides no proof to back up this assertion, such as past rulings by the Press Ombudsman that would point to an inherent bias.
- The ANC claims that citizens have complained to it that they have been victims of unfair and unsatisfactory decisions by the system currently in place (point 88). Again there are no statistics or other evidence provided to support this claim.
- According to this document a “…cursory scan on the print media reveals an astonishing degree of dishonesty, lack of professional integrity and lack of independence. Editorials distancing the paper from these acts and apologies which are never given due prominence and mostly which has to be forced through the press ombudsman are not sufficient in dealing with this ill” (point 58). That the ANC concedes that this serious allegation is based on a “cursory glance” is simply unacceptable. It is MMA’s experience, after 17 years monitoring the media, that while violations occur, for the most part these allegations are simply untrue. However to ensure that we have a clear picture of media behaviour MMA is about to begin a monitoring project that will give us concrete evidence about media performance, identifying failures as well as strengths, which ought to form the basis of future change.
The document says: “As South Africans we know the full meaning of unregulated power and unbridled capitalism of the barons experienced by other societies through time” (point 59 and 60). However this is one side of the argument. We also know only too well the dangers of the over-regulation of print media.
Commercial imperatives and sensationalism must not be at the expense of the public interest and a diversity of views. However this concept must not be used as a means to condone undue control of the media. Self regulation needs to be strengthened rather than South Africa adopting a course of action that will, inadvertently or otherwise, muzzle the media. There must be a clear distinction between the media’s democratic role of being a watchdog of those in power and on the other hand irresponsible and unethical reporting.
Of course the media could do better. MMA supports efforts to improve and encourage greater public ownership of the press code, to ensure that the public is empowered to access an effective and transparent complaints procedure and that justice is done and is seen to be done.
A popular legal adage says “hard cases make bad law”. We need to make sure that a minority of instances of questionable, sensational or dubious reporting does not lead us to adopt a course of action that future generations will regret. Media is essential to the development and deepening of democracy, and a media with faults is better than a media muzzled.
For further comment please contact:
- William Bird +27 (0)82 887 1370
- Prinola Govendin +27 (0)72 708 1320
Director & Ashoka Fellow
Media Monitoring Africa
Media Monitoring Project
Mb: +2782 887 1370
Tel: +2711 788 1278
Fax: +2711 788 1289
PO Box 1560
Parklands 2121, Johannesburg
South AfricaDate published:09/08/2010Organisation:Media Monitoring Africa
- Government is under criticism from civil society organisations (CSOs), the media and opposition parties over the Protection of Information Bill.
The Bill, meant to replace an apartheid-era law dating from 1982, includes some problematic (potentially unconstitutional) elements that limit the media’s right to information and could see investigative journalists face up to 25 years in jail for publishing information of ‘public interest’.
Many described the Bill as the biggest threat yet to freedom of information and the work of journalists. The other fear is that the Bill will encourage the publishing of press releases by the state and discourage investigative journalism. While some organisations feel that the Bill is unconstitutional and should be withdrawn, others are of the view that it should be redrafted to promote media freedom.
The following organisations have commented on the Bill:
- Information Bill Unconstitutional – Lawmakers
- NGO Calls for Withdrawal of Information Bill
- HSF Criticises Protection of Information Bill
- NGO Urges Govt to Redraft Information Bill
- SA's Secrecy Bill - Another Threat to Media Freedom
- Open Democracy Advice Centre
- Institute for Democracy in South Africa
- South African History Archive & Nelson Mandela Foundation
- Southern African Catholic Bishop's Conference
- South African Media & Gender Institute
- Institute for Security Studies & Open Society Justice Initiative
- SANEF to Engage ANC on Media Freedom
- Bill Threat to Media Freedom – M&G Editor
- Tribunal a Blow to Media Freedom – Louw
- Campaign Against Proposed Media Laws
- MMA Criticises Proposed Media Tribunal
- FXI Fears ‘Greater State Control’ Over Media
- NGOs Denounce wa Afrika’s Arrest
- Proposed Laws Will Silence Critics – NGO
- Media Bill: CSOs Next on ANC List – SAIRR
- 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
If you would like to share your views and comments regarding the Protection of Information Bill with NGO Pulse readers, please forward your comments and contributions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
SANGONeT will highlight the feedback on the NGO Pulse portal and in the weekly NGO Pulse e-newsletter.
- The Press Council of South Africa takes issue with a call by the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) for a statutory media appeals tribunal.
In a press statement, the Council’s chairperson, Raymond Louw, points out that imposing of such a tribunal on the press has nothing to do with promoting press freedom but everything to do with the way the press reports on the conduct of governance, including the conduct of Cabinet ministers and other senior officials of the ANC.
Louw argues that the ANC and the SACP do not want the public to be told of their poor governance, corruption by ‘tenderpreneurs’ and lavish life-styles, but want the press to report the ANC’s version of what is happening.
To read the article titled, “Press Council warns against media tribunal,” click here.Source:Mail&Guardian
- The South African chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA - SA) has added its voice to those calling for the withdrawal of the Protection of Information Bill.
MISA – SA says it is deeply concerned about a number of provisions in the Bill which provides for penalties that could ensnare journalists and subject them to jail terms.
The organisation calls for the withdrawal of the Bill and its framing, after proper consultation with stakeholders such as the media, more narrowly so that the maximum amount of information is still available to the public.
To read the article titled, “MISA call: Withdraw info bill,” click here.
- Lawmakers have warned again that the Protection of Information Bill will not survive Constitutional Court scrutiny because it rides roughshod over media freedom and the democratic values of transparency and accountability.
Dario Milo, a partner at Webber Wentzel law firm making a representation on behalf of Print Media South Africa, points out that, "The ones (clauses) I have highlighted are clearly unconstitutional and the Constitutional Court would strike them down."
Addressing the ad hoc parliamentary committee on the Bill, Milo noted that that the Bill, meant to replace an apartheid-era law dating from 1982, could see investigative journalists face up to 25 years in jail for publishing information of public interest.
To read the article titled, “Information Bill unconstitutional – lawyer,” click here.Source:Independent Online
- The South African National Editor’s Forum (SANEF) has expressed its ‘strong rejection’ of renewed proposals for a state-appointed tribunal and a growing slate of new legislation that is ‘hostile’ to the free flow of information to South Africans.
In a statement following its annual general meeting in Johannesburg, SANEF points out that the proposed tribunal will go against the existing system of self-regulation which involves the media and members of the public, and will be unconstitutional.
In addition, SANEF expressed its support for the Press Council Code of Conduct and encouraged editors to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to violations.
To read the article titled, “SA editors reject ANC media tribunal proposal,” click here.Source:Sunday Times
- The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) could face legal action if it does not reconsider its decision to give companies just three weeks to apply for the new digital mobile television service licence.
The latest comes after black-owned Mobile TV Consortium wrote to ICASA chairperson, Paris Mashile, objecting to the 7 May deadline.
The letter said it was not reasonable to expect companies to meet the requirements of the mobile television regulations in the time given, and that the deadline is not only anticompetitive but unconstitutional as it is biased towards existing operators.
To read the article titled, “ICASA legal threat risks mobile TV promise to FIFA,” click here.Source:Business Day
- The Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) has asked the South African Law Reform Commission to investigate amending section 205 of the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) to introduce a "shield law" to protect confidential journalistic sources and information.
In a press statement, the organisation says the recent debacle over issuing subpoenas calling for two e.tv journalists to divulge their sources and confidential information highlighted the controversial point at which conflicting rights collide and the manner in which section 205 is abused.
It argues that at the core of this conflict lay the question whether the public interest in compelling the journalist to reveal his or her source or confidential information clearly outweighed the public interest in the free flow of information.
To read the article titled, “FXI wants better protection for confidential sources,” click here.
Source:<br /> Mail and Guardian