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

    Native Americans Ask: What About Our Water Supply?

    They say they have been facing a dangerous water contaminant for decades - uranium – but the problem has received far less attention than water contamination by lead in Flint, Michigan

    Pakistan's President Urges Nation Not to Celebrate Valentine's Day

    Mamnoon Hussain criticizes Valentine's Day, which falls on Sunday this year, as a Western import that threatens to undermine the Islamic values of Pakistan

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.