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

On Everest, Helicopters Rescue Stranded Climbers

Choppers transport some of more than 100 mountaineers trapped after deadly quake, avalanches More

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

In 2005, a Paris suburb exploded into violence after two teenagers were electrocuted as they hid from police; since then, somethings have changed, others not More

US, Japan Announce Historic Revision of Defense Cooperation Guidelines

Nations say new guidelines will be 'cornerstone for peace and security' in Asia-Pacific region while also serving as 'platform for a more stable international security environment' 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.
‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europei
X
Henry Ridgwell
April 26, 2015 10:36 PM
Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video ‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europe

Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

January’s terrorist attacks and fears of more to come are casting a spotlight on France’s neglected suburbs. Home to many immigrants, and sometimes hubs of crime, they were rocked by rioting a decade ago. Lisa Bryant visited the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 violence first broke out, and has this report about what has changed and what has not.
Video

Video Gay Marriage Goes Before US Supreme Court

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether gay people have a constitutional right to marriage. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the case could lead to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, or a continuation of the status quo in which individual states decide whether to recognize gay unions.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

VOA Blogs