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Critics Slam Plan to License South Africa Reporters

  • Anita Powell

(File) Journalists report from outside the former South African President Nelson Mandela's house, in Johannesburg, South Africa Monday, Sept. 2, 2013.

(File) Journalists report from outside the former South African President Nelson Mandela's house, in Johannesburg, South Africa Monday, Sept. 2, 2013.

A plan to license reporters in South Africa is being condemned by journalist groups.

The new chief of South Africa’s public broadcaster, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, had already raised the ire of many South Africans for claiming to have a high school diploma, called a matric, which he does not.

Now he's further raised hackles by demanding that journalists in Africa’s most established and boisterous media landscape be licensed to practice.

Motsoeneng says media licensing is necessary because some journalists are “lazy,” make up facts, and are not objective. He did not give specific examples.

He also says South African journalists too often miss what he described as “good news” about the government’s efforts to improve the lives of South Africans. He says he will make a formal submission on this idea to the nation’s communications minister.

Unsurprisingly, the pronouncement has been met with met with derision by journalists, professionals who are paid to ask and say what most people are too afraid, or embarrassed, to ask and say.

South Africa’s National Editors’ Forum has condemned the proposal and criticized Motsoeneng for what it calls his “ignorance of journalistic practice."

On Tuesday, the International Committee to Protect Journalists joined the fray, saying South African journalists have earned the right to report freely after decades of oppression and censorship under apartheid.

“We are very concerned that the head of the public broadcaster is thinking in terms of licensing journalists," said CPJ’s Africa Program Coordinator, Sue Valentine. "Because we believe that this not the job of the head of a public broadcaster, and also it totally takes South African press freedom, which is hard won, it takes it backwards.”

Valentine also says that Motsoeneng’s argument that doctors and lawyers are licensed should not apply to journalists. In fact, she says, his proposal flies in the face of South Africa’s constitution.

“The difference is that a doctor or a lawyer is a profession, whereas journalists deal with the issue of the fundamental human rights, of freedom of expression and the right of access to information," she said. "So the right of freedom of expression and access to information is at the heart of what journalists do, and for that reason journalists should not be licensed.”

Motsoeneng says he will stand firm by his proposal, whose fate, without a doubt, will be closely followed by journalists.

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