South Africa’s media posed a threat to democracy, South African Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande said in a report in the Times newspaper on Monday.
Expressing strong support for a media tribunal, Nzimande said journalists were always “looking for bad news out of the ANC and its alliance partners”.
He was speaking at the party’s 89th anniversary celebrations in Rustenburg in the North West on Sunday.
Nzimande’s comments came days after the ruling African National Congress released a discussion document entitled “Media transformation, ownership and diversity“, which proposes the setting up of a “Media Appeals Tribunal” to make the media “accountable”.
The document questions the efficiency of the self-regulatory press ombudsman, which Nzimande described as “toothless and useless”.
“We know the importance of free media because it was the communists that went to jail for that,” said Nzimande, who is also the minister of higher education and training.
“But we want a media tribunal that will hold journalists accountable. If there is one serious threat to our democracy, it is a media that is accountable to itself.”
‘Imposition’ on media freedom
Meanwhile, ombudsman Joe Thloloe warned on Friday that a tribunal would be an “imposition” on media freedom.
“Any system imposed from outside the press itself will be an imposition and in violation of the Constitution,” Thloloe told the South African Press Association.
Thloloe said he approached the ANC about a month ago to try to get clarity on talk of a tribunal, which the ANC said would complement the role of the press council and press ombudsman.
“I was saying we were getting two different positions. The one, from Polokwane, that there will be an investigation into the possibility of a media tribunal … But also, another position, coming from the alliance very strongly, is a view that a tribunal should be established.
“I went there to ask, where are we standing, is there going to be in an investigation or is it [the tribunal] going ahead?
“[I was told] they are going to recommend that Parliament will do an investigation,” said Thloloe.
He said he would be “happy” to participate in an investigation but expressed doubts about its intentions.
“We are very happy to participate in any investigation, but what worries us are the people who have already made up their minds.”
Business Day editor Peter Bruce wrote on Monday that he would not be attending a meeting with the ANC, scheduled for Tuesday.
“I just don’t want to be a part of any meetings whose object is to make my country less of a democracy. If I go, and if others editors go, it will merely legitimise what the ANC want to do anyway — they’ll be able to say they ‘consulted’ with the media. But not, at least, with me. This is not Vichy,” wrote Bruce. – Sapa