News / Africa

South African Government and Ruling Party Seek to Curtail Media Freedom

There is widespread and deep concern in South Africa that the ruling party and the government are seeking to introduce measures that will severely curtail the media freedoms guaranteed in the country's constitution.  

President Jacob Zuma's government has presented a new law to parliament for consideration that seeks to tighten protection of government information, and is currently known as the Protection of Information Bill. And the ruling African National Congress is proposing a so-called Media Appeals Tribunal that will override the current self-regulatory mechanisms in the media.

But editors and lawyers say both proposals include elements that will violate media freedoms guaranteed in terms of the constitution.  

Most countries have legislation that classifies information that could jeopardize the national interest if it became public.  But Thabo Leshilo, of the South Africa National Editors Forum (SANEF) says the language of the proposed South African law is far too sweeping.  

"As it stands now it provides too wide a definition of what is called national interest.  It defines it as something as construed to be in the public good.  Now, anything can be said to be in the public good," he said.

Leshilo, who chairs SANEF's media freedom committee, says it also a problem that authority to classify information can be delegated to very low ranking government officials. He says that in this way information that the public needs to know, could be withheld from them.

"That includes information for something as, which is not seen as of state security as service delivery protests, if people are protesting over service delivery, or the failure of local government or municipalities to provide services, they can simply declare that information to be classified," he said.

The proposed law envisages sentences up to 25 years in jail and Leshilo says it is outrageous that a journalist could go to jail for years for exposing the wrong doing of government officials.

The government argues the proposed legislation will not violate media freedoms but the growing pressure, local and international, has caused concern at the highest level.  Following its weekly meeting the Cabinet said it is committed to meeting with SANEF and government spokesman Themba Maseko said while it will continue the process to have the bill made law, the government is willing to consider submissions from interested parties.

The ANC's proposal for a media appeals tribunal that will override the current system of an ombudsman and review committee comes from a resolution at its national conference in 2007 that elected Jacob Zuma president of the ANC.  But it seems to have come to the fore recently following numerous reports of extravagant expenditure by government ministers, and those ministers who have been the subject of such reports have been most vocal in its support.

President Zuma, who has also very strong in his support of the bill, has also been the subject of negative publicity over his personal life in the past year.  A polygamist with three wives and 21 children, he has recently had at least one extra-marital affair that resulted in the birth of a child.  Mr. Zuma considers such information to be private, but the head of the Media24 Journalism Academy Mathatha Tsedu says such information should not be private for the president of the country.

"Now is that really a private matter when we as South African tax payers pay for everything that he does including all his children, all his spouses - we take care of that in terms of our taxes? So in that instance I don't think so," said Tsedu.

Tsedu, who is also chairperson of the African Editors Forum, says editors across the continent are already deeply concerned.

"There is huge consternation around what is happening here, because whereas many of my colleagues out there on the continent are dealing with seriously repressive governments, they were always able to point to South Africa as an example of an African country where media has sufficient freedom," she said.

Tsedu says that already officials from repressive governments are telling editors in those countries the South African government is finally coming to its senses.

Senior ANC officials also argue that one of the problems with the media is that it is predominantly owned by whites and foreigners and that newsrooms still do not reflect the country's race demographic.  Editor Leshilo says that while ownership remains a problem, it is nonsense to say that newsrooms are too white.  He says that most major newspapers in the country are edited by blacks.  He says the real problem for the ANC and the government is that black reporters and editors are, overwhelmingly, not willing to overlook government failings.

"You look at a newspaper like The Sowetan, it has always been a black edited newspaper with a very, very strong voice, and one thing they don't like about the Sowetan is that it was there in the trenches with them during the days of the struggle [against apartheid], and it knows exactly what the struggle was about, and it knows where the struggle is being betrayed," he said.

Black journalists who write critically about the ANC and the government are often labelled as traitors, while whites are frequently branded as racist; both groups are said to be unpatriotic.

The government and the ANC also often charge that the media is sloppy and often gets facts wrong, and that the subjects of those reports are unfairly slandered.  Tsedu says the media does get it wrong, but not nearly as often as its detractors allege.  He adds that SANEF is currently looking at ways to improve its self-regulatory systems.

"There is a willingness within SANEF and within the Ombudsman's office to look at how to improve on the way that the office operates and how editors respond to complaints," said Ttsedu.

Leshilo says that if the government and ANC press ahead with their proposals, editors will take them to the constitutional court to be tested.  He and other editors will likely be pleased to note that the General Council of the Bar has now also denounced the proposals saying they will not pass constitutional muster.

You May Like

Photogallery Obama Announces Plan to Send 3,000 Troops to Liberia in Ebola Fight

At US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Obama details troop deployment and other pieces of US plan More

China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

Muslims in Kunming say that they condemn the violence, it is not a reflection of the true beliefs of their faith More

Humanitarian Aid, Equipment Blocked in Cameroon

Move is seen as a developing supply crisis in West Africa More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Communityi
X
September 16, 2014 2:06 PM
Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid