/ 24 October 2007

ANC backs media diversity

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) would be within its rights not to run a story on Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, but media diversity is important in ensuring that other outlets can run it if they choose to, African National Congress (ANC) politician and businessman Saki Macozoma said on Tuesday.

”If they make an editorial decision that you or I do not agree with, it is within their rights. There is somebody out there who will tell us and that person will not be stopped.”

He said that was why media diversity was important.

”Unless people can express themselves in different media forms, we are not going to have diversity.”

He said people should not be overly concerned about the robustness of the debate. He was concerned about the current ”us and them” mood between the ANC and the media.

The media must accept that the ANC existed to propagate certain ideas and views.

”We must be able to tell someone ‘your idea is lunatic’, but we must not succumb to the situation where we say this kind of news must not be expressed. This kind of view must be expressed.”

He said an ANC discussion document on self-regulatory mechanisms in the media, remedial measures to safeguard rights and the need for a media tribunal were merely up for discussion at the December conference, and were not recommendations.

He said within the ANC he had not heard talk that the SABC should become an ANC mouthpiece.

Media researcher Kate Skinner said that because of the commercial funding models of South African media, fewer marginalised views were coming through.

She called for a commission to examine the extent of the diversity of views in the media.


Meanwhile, a seminar hosted by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) was told on Tuesday that under no circumstances should a patient’s medical records be disclosed unless he or she gives personal consent.

A panel was discussing the implications of articles published by the Sunday Times about Tshabalala-Msimang.

Chairperson of the South African Medical Association Dr Kgosi Letlape said medical records should not be disclosed without consent.

”Everyone has a right to be protected by the law against such conduct,” he said in Parktown, Johannesburg, at the SAHRC’s Freedom of Expression vs Privacy seminar.

Letlape said doctors had a duty to keep patients’ medical records confidential even after death. He said disclosing somebody’s health status was an invasion of privacy.

The heated debate came to an end with most of the panel discussion members echoing Letlape’s view.

South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) news chief Snuki Zikalala said the SABC would never have published such a story because they only published stories that would develop the nation.

”We are guided by the Constitution not to incite violence or hatred in our reporting. Publishing such a story is disrespectful.”

Zikalala said all individuals had a right to live, not to be destroyed.

He said there was a serious problem with South African media because when journalists attacked the government they became popular.

”If a journalist attacks the president, he or she become a hero and wins an award for it in this country.”

He said editors had become sensationalists and liars, quoting an article in the Sunday Times where the editor, Mondli Makhanya, said he was being followed.

”Makhanya was lying. There’s no journalist that’s followed [home] in South Africa,” said Zikalala.

‘False story’

Press Ombudsman Joe Thloloe said on Tuesday it was unfair to discuss the issue because the Sunday Times had not had a chance to defend itself against the allegations.

”I can’t comment on issues that are either on my desk or will be on my desk soon,” he said.

Author Ronald Suresh Roberts disagreed with Thloloe, saying the Sunday Times had had a chance to defend itself in the many articles it had published.

He said: ”There was a false story two weeks ago in the Sunday Times, which said that Makhanya was going to be arrested.

”The paper has published many articles on the issue, so I believe they had a fair chance to defend themselves,” he said.

Roberts said journalists were not above law and this should be emphasised in the way the country dealt with the media’s misconduct.

”There’s too much liberation for the South African media; if the Sunday Times had published that story using stolen information in another country, Makhanya would have been arrested.”

Few of the debating members disagreed that the newspaper had invaded the minister’s privacy.

Jane Duncan of the Freedom of Expression Institute said if one behaved badly as a public figure and there was confidential information that the public had an overwhelming interest in, she thought it should be disclosed. — Sapa