Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications is defending a decision to bar the media from its interrogation of the SABC board about the appointment of Phil Molefe as head of news, about transformation and about the functioning of the board itself.
Here are the letters back and forth between parliament and the South African National Editors Forum:
The anniversary of Ruth First’s assassination gave everyone a chance to assume what she might have made of the state of South African politics today. Zwelinzima Vavi, the general secretary of the Cosatu labour federation, presumed to know that she would have opposed the ANC’s move to restrict media freedom; Blade Nzimande, the general secretary of the South African Communist Party, presumed to know that First, a former journalist, would have been in the frontline, fighting for a media appeals tribunal; and the ANC Youth League was outraged that Nzimande should think she would have been disappointed to see what had become of the ruling party’s youth wing – and presumed to know she would have endorsed its leadership – for which read Julius Malema.
Read them for yourself:
ANC veteran Pallo Jordan has weighed in on the media freedom debate with a challenge to the ruling party to defend its own heritage by protecting the right to a free and critical press.
In a heavyweight analysis of the issues at stake when the government weighs curbs on the media, Jordan, a former cabinet minister with a reputation as one of the ANC’s leading intellectuals, cautions against official regulation, but raps the media for being complacent about its own responsibilities, too.
“The value we place on a free, independent and outspoken press in democratic South Africa cannot be overstated. A free press can temper the appetite of any government to amass power at the expense of the citizen. A free press can be the vigilant watchdog of the public interest against the temptation to abuse power,” he says.
South Africa’s 1.2 million public servants have embarked on what they call an indefinite strike to press their demand for an 8.6% wage increase and a housing allowance increase of R1000. The government is offering 7% and R700 more for housing.
Here are some of the key statements so far from the two sides:
Here is an updated list of bills currently before the South African parliament.
There is nothing waiting for a vote in the National Assembly, but there is plenty of legislation, including the Protection of Information Bill, making its way through the committees, where changes could be made to the original text presented by government departments.
Those with two stars are scheduled for a final vote before the end of next week, but most are unlikely to make that deadline. Those with one star should be adopted before the parliamentary year ends on November 26.
President Jacob Zuma has pinned his colours to the mast in the debate about media regulation in South Africa.
“I have observed and have been following the debate on the ANC proposal to have parliament investigate the desirability of establishing the Media Appeals Tribunal (MAT) with keen interest. I must state from the onset that I am astounded by the commentaries and opinion pieces written by some within the media fraternity and within the society broadly, in reaction to this important debate. Some suggest that the establishment of the MAT is meant to settle scores. Others still suggest that this is an attempt by the ruling party to control and bulldoze the media using the tactics of apartheid regime,” he said in a letter on the ANC Today website.
Zuma argues that freedom of expression should not be elevated above other constitutionally guaranteed rights, such as the rights to privacy and to dignity.
But there is a subtext to his letter which seems to suggest that the media should be reflecting the ANC’s agenda. This seems to be the nub of his argument:
“Our contention is that the ANC does not, and will never pose any threat to media freedom. The media must seriously conduct an introspection and open a constructive debate about the role of this institution in a post-apartheid South Africa. Is the media a mirror of South African society? Is it in touch with what the majority of South Africans feel and think? Does this institution actually know and understand South Africans? Why was it surprised by the explosion of national pride during the Soccer World Cup tournament? Why did South Africans decide to rise above the daily diet of negativity and defeatism that they are fed daily in the media?
“What is the impact of ownership on content and staffing? What is the ideological outlook of the media? Is there an alienation with the post-apartheid democratic order and thinking? Are we on the same wavelength regarding where South Africa should go politically, socially and economically? Does the media understand this well enough to articulate it to South Africans, to enable to accurately judge government action and performance?”
The ANC is certainly keeping the pressure up as Zuma, wearing his president-of-the-country hat, prepares for a summit with newspaper owners and editors sometime around the end of August.
Jeremy Cronin, deputy general secretary of the SACP, has also defended the idea of a media tribunal on Umsebenzi Online .
Here is Zuma’s full letter:
The debate is deepening about the ANC’s real intentions with the raft of media laws and proposals coming from the party and parliament.
Dario Milo, the lawyer representing Print Media South Africa offered probably the most thorough analysis of the Protection of Information Bill in his recent presentation to Parliament.
Politics on Record, the databank for Politics LIVE will add other critiques to this post:
The Department of Justice has formally presented the Protection from Harassment Bill to the parliamentary committee.
Public hearings are likely in the fourth quarter with an advert likely in the next few weeks calling for public comment.
The bill provides that anyone – even an unrepresented child – can approach a court at any time of the day or night for protection from harassment by stalkers, jilted lovers, work colleagues or anyone whose unwanted attention poses or could pose the risk of harm, including psychological distress.
Harassment could be by telephone, e-mail, SMS or any other electronic means.
It is possible that the bill could be used by the famous and the notorious to keep nosy reporters or paparazzi photographers at bay.
The ANCYL has come out in strong support of the proposal for a media appeals tribunal, but appears to misunderstand the concept. The youth league wants proactive investigations, probes into the finances of reporters and a clamp on reports it sees as hostile to the ANC.
Here is what the league had to say:
4 August 2010
The African National Congress Youth League (ANC YL) is totally in support of the establishment of a Media Tribunal which will adjudicate over wrong reporting by all media and ensure that they are taken to task for falsifying stories, sensationalism and spreading lies that seek to undermine the integrity of individuals and organisations. The establishment of a Media Tribunal is long overdue and has allowed imposters in media, masquerading as Journalists/Editors to undermine the integrity of our organisations and spread lies about their leadership. A tougher institution in the form of a Media Tribunal, which will also investigate Journalists dodgy financial interests and conflict of interests, should be established to safeguard South Africa’s democracy. The fact that the ANC Youth League did not continue speaking about dodgy financial interests of Journalists does not mean that such practices have come to an end.
In its official response, the Press Council of South Africa says, “Some of the ANC’s ministers and leading personalities – including ANC Youth League President Julius Malema, the league’s spokesman Floyd Shivambu, Kwa-Zulu Natal Premier Dr Zweli Mkhize, and ANC Treasurer-General Dr Mathews Phosa, – are using the Press Ombudsman to voice their complaints and at least one former minister, Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi (Public Service and Administration), expressed her entire satisfaction with the manner in which her complaint had been dealt with”. The ANC Youth League rejects this notion because in all our previous attempts to write to the Ombudsman, we either did not receive any response or received lame responses three months after the false reporting. To this day, the ANC Youth League is still waiting for Press Ombudsman’s response on matters we reported more than 6 months ago.
The Press Ombudsman is a useless association of Newspapers whose sole responsibility is to protect spiteful and dodgy newspapers, some of which have spiteful agendas to undermine the integrity of our organisations and leadership. The other Media institutions and organisations such as SANEF and Press Council of South Africa are equally useless in media monitoring and evaluation. This therefore calls for an immediate establishment of a Media Tribunal to save our organisations and leadership from repeated attempts to assassinate their characters and sow divisions. The Media Tribunal should then begin with investigating Newspapers such as the City Press, Mail & Guardian, The Citizen, Sunday Times, The Times, most Afrikaans Newspapers (Die Burger & Rapport) and all Independent Group Newspapers to expose their ill-intentions and programme to sow divisions in the ANC and undermine its integrity. Some of the owners and directors of these Newspapers are active funders and leaders of opposition parties and this explains why the ANC and all its structures are under constant attack.
The ANC Youth League is also aware that in some instances, some Journalists’ names are used by these Newspapers to write drivel about the ANC Youth League and its leadership. A City Press Journalist has previously admitted to the ANC YL that the story that appeared under his name linking the ANC YL to what the Newspaper claimed are dodgy tenders was not written by him, despite the fact that it appeared under his name. This proves that there is a far much bigger agenda to undermine the integrity of the ANC Youth League and these media people do not account anywhere because the Ombudsman is their colleague and partner is assassinating organisational and individual’s characters.
The ANC government should immediately put systems in place to establish the Media Tribunal because the 52nd National Conference of the ANC resolved that such a tribunal should be established. There is no need for the National General Council of the ANC to discuss the establishment of the Media Tribunal, because the 52nd National Conference resolved it should be established. What the NGC should receive is a comprehensive report as to when the Media Tribunal should begin its operations, because some imposters in the media continue to undermine media freedom by spreading lies.
The ANC Youth League is aware that it is not all media that is guilty of violations. There are honourable media houses, institutions and individuals and those we will continue to protect. The ones opposed to Media Tribunal are the ones who are in most instances guilty of abusing media freedom and taking advantage of the absence of a regulatory and monitoring institution in the media.
The African National Congress Youth League
The controversy about the Protection of Information Bill continues to rage. Here are some perspectives on the possible implications of the proposal.
* “This Bill proposes an array of offences which are potentially harmful to the media in that they constitute an effective deterrent of investigative journalism and that they present practical logistical problems. The absence of a public interest exemption means that those working on stories which deal with classified information are always at risk of prosecution,” says the Freedom of Expression Institute, FXI .
* “Most worrying are the draconian sentences that the bill provides for the disclosure of classified information – with penalties ranging from three to five years in prison – and for the communication or delivery of classified information, for which penalties range from three to 25 years imprisonment. There is no option for a fine and the public interest is not explicitly mentioned as a defence,” says the International Press Institute.
* “Doublethink appears to have been the mindset of the authors of the Protection of Information Bill that is currently before Parliament,” says Dave Steward, of the FW de Klerk Foundation.
* “Like its predecessor, the new version of the Bill will make journalists’ job of exposing corruption and incompetence that much harder — because it will make it easy for a wide range of information to be kept secret in the ‘national interest’,” says the Mail&Guardian.
* “A particular matter of concern is the lack of transparency, downward accountability and independent
review of the behaviour of heads of organs of state in classifying information,” says the Helen Suzman Foundation.
* “The chief state law adviser, Enver Daniels, conceded that the objections to the bill are so strong that the law almost certainly will be taken to the Constitutional Court if it is passed by parliament this year, as proposed,” reports The Times.
* “We have a concern that many of the mechanisms and procedures proposed by the
Bill are not implementable,” say the South African History Archive and the Nelson Mandela Foundation in a joint analysis.