Tuesday, August 09, 2022

" Nature knows no pause in progress and development, and attaches her curse on all inaction. "

~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Thoughts on the Media Tribunal

By Mandisi Brukwe

newspaper_webThe former apartheid regime manipulated press freedom through pieces of legislation to ensure that it manages to perpetuate National Party rule at the expense of majority of South Africans, who became second-class citizens and outcasts in the land of their birth. Journalists were thrown in and out of jail, sometimes spending up to six months in detention without trial. An unfortunate few vanished from earth without a trace. Those who were lucky were found dead in prison cells and the only explanation given by the authorities was that they had committed suicide. South Africans have vowed never to experience that part of their history again by voting out the now defunct National Party and opted for a new order under the leadership of the African National Congress (ANC). During apartheid a number of media houses served as mouthpieces of the apartheid regime and in that way extended their life spans as they were closely protected by the state. These media houses that dared challenge the state on critical national issues were either banned or their staff harassed, if not assassinated. Politically progressive South Africans were forced to listen to banned radio stations and read banned newspapers if they wanted to listen to more objective news. Since the dawn of democracy, media in South Africa has played a critical role in ensuring the general citizenry is kept abreast of political, economic and social issues which are of national concern and that the society makes its voice heard by those in power.

South Africa will regress with this Bill
South African media is faced with the worst nightmare since 1994, in the form of the proposed Media Tribunal and Protection of Information Bill. These two pieces of legislation have far reaching consequences for the citizens country. The Freedom of Expression Institute is quoted as saying the ANC’S proposed media appeals tribunal is not an appropriate solution to breaches of journalistic ethics. They further stated that the regulatory body and the Protection of Information Bill are not the best means of holding journalists accountable. The institute’s Ayesha Kajee said, “We believe those are both inappropriate solutions. Let me liken this to if a child misbehaves within a family situation, you don’t punish the whole family, you punish the misdemeanour of the child. You don’t even punish the child as a person - you punish the action.”

Ten years ago the South African Government passed an act called the Promotion of Access to Information Act enabling citizens and the media the right t access information needed to promote transparency and democratic values . Now the ANC want to take all of that away. We don’t protect information by making it secret. You protect information by putting it out for scrutiny.

An eye for an eye
The ANC’S Jackson Mthembu said the purpose of a media tribunal is to “offer people who have been defamed a means of recourse”. This reminds me of President Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma’s many court cases in which he was suing media for their articles during his rape trial. Mthembu’s explanation, therefore, clearly demonstrates that the ANC wants to settle scores with the media.

Various levels of the South African government and agencies are plagued by are corruption, fraud, nepotism, sexual harassment and a list of other violations. The media has played a critical role in ensuring that these issues are exposed in the public domain. A censored media cannot hold government accountable because the citizens will be kept in the dark about what is actually happening in their own country by leaders and ordinary citizens. The idea of a statutory body, created by law, and appointed by the political executive, raises the prospect of a media answerable to political bosses.

Conflicting with our Constitution
President Zuma, in his weekly newsletter during August this year, said: "We have a responsibility to democratise every aspect of South African society, including the media. We will use our right to express what we think.

And we should not be silenced by claims of ‘threats to press freedom.’" This statement by the President is in total conflict with the Freedom of the Press as enshrined in the Constitution. William Bird, the Director of Media Monitoring Africa, said some legislation, such as the Protection of Information Bill, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa Amendment Bill and thePublic Service Broadcasting Bill were all contrary to the tenets of the Constitution. "The bills they introduce are completely and fundamentally at odds with our Constitution," said Mr. Bird. The ICASA Amendment Bill is said to make ICASA a tool of the government, instead of being independent, while the broadcasting bill has been criticised for putting the SABC under the control of the minister. This is just another attempt of widening state control of the media.

What other CSOs say:

MISA – SA says it is deeply concerned about a number of provisions in the Bill which provides for penalties that could ensnare journalists and subject them to jail terms.
The organisation calls for the withdrawal of the Bill and its framing, after proper consultation with stakeholders such as the media, more narrowly so that the maximum amount of information is still available to the public.

Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC)
ODAC contends that the basic premise of the Protection of Information Bill should reflect that public records and information are the property of South African citizens and all initial presumptions should favour disclosure. While certain information must be exempt from immediate disclosure for several disparate reasons, these exemptions must only function to an extent that is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society as provided for in the constitution and must at all times reflect the public interest of South African citizens in order to be considered legitimate.

The Protection of Information Bill creates obstacles for civil society and media groups seeking to expose official malpractices by giving the government extensive powers to prevent the communication of information in the “national interest” on the pain of draconian punishments ranging from a minimum of three years imprisonment, extending up to 25 years. National interest is defined through omnibus provisions, which include broad categories such as “all matters relating to the advancement of public good”, the protection of trade secrets of state organs including “profits, losses or expenditures of any person” and the “pursuit of justice, democracy, economic growth, free trade, a stable monetary system and sound international relations”.

Source: NGO Pulse, SANGONET
www.mg.co.za; www.timeslive.co.za;


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