US publications weigh in on SA media freedom

A body representing major media houses in the United States has sent a letter to President Jacob Zuma urging him to shelve legislative proposals that would “severely restrict” South African media.

“We call on you as the head of state and leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) to ensure that such proposals are either amended in line with constitutional safeguards for freedom of the press and access to information, or withdrawn altogether in the interest of preserving the transparency, accountability, and democracy gained after apartheid,” the letter penned by the newly established Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said.

The committee, consisting of leading media houses including NBC News, the New York Times and the Washington Post, was responding to the ANC’s proposal on an independent media tribunal and the Protection of Information Bill.

“The Protection of Information Bill currently before parliament is meant to replace an apartheid-era law dating from 1982… It would virtually shield the government from the scrutiny of the independent press and criminalise activities essential to investigative journalism, a vital public service,” the letter said.

Journalists, under the proposed law, would face “heavy” jail time for violations.

No explanation
The committee said according to its research and legal experts, officials and state agencies would have unchecked authority to classify any public or commercial data as secret, confidential, protected, or sensitive based on “national interest” and without any explanation.

“National interest would, for instance, include details of criminal investigations, a definition that risks chilling coverage of public law enforcement and judicial matters,” it said.

Journalists found guilty of unauthorised disclosure of official or classified information could face up to 25 years in jail.

The committee said further that the proposed tribunal would issue “unspecified sanctions” for complaints against the press.

“Moreover, we believe members of the public already have mechanisms of legal redress to settle disputes with the press in addition to the existing media self-regulatory institutions,” it said.

Wa Afrika
The CPJ said it was also concerned that the arrest of Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika may have been in retaliation for critical coverage of ANC officials.

“The growth of South Africa’s democracy will depend on the government’s acceptance and tolerance of the media’s scrutiny of its performance,” the CPJ said.

“We therefore call on you to amend or shelve the Protection of Information Bill and the Media Appeals Tribunals proposal as they undermine guarantees for a free media and access to information as enshrined in the Constitution.”

The letter comes just days after the Vienna-based International Press Institute — a global network of publishers, editors and journalists –sent a similar letter to Zuma saying that recent moves would endanger the independence and vitality of South African media. — Sapa

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

2019: The ones who left us

From Uyinene Mrwetyana, Oliver Mtukudzi to Xolani Gwala, Mail & Guardian remembers those who have passed on

More battles ahead for domestic worker unions

Florence Sosiba, speaks to the Mail & Guardian about how important domestic workers are and exclusion in the COIDA

“Life has been good to me, considering where I come from” – Xolani Gwala

Just over a year ago, veteran radio presenter Xolani Gwala’s cancer was in remission. He spoke to the Mail & Guardian once he was back on air.

Kanya Cekeshe’s lawyer appeals decision not to grant him bail to the high court

Kanya Cekeshe’s legal team filed an urgent appeal at the Johannesburg high court on Tuesday against Monday’s judgment by magistrate Theunis Carstens.

Leader’s principal aim to build IFP

Gravitas: Velenkosini Hlabisa brings his experience to his new post as leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party.

Police Minister Bheke Cele addresses Jeppestown

Police minister Bheki Cele visited Jeppestown on Tuesday to speak to business owners and community leaders.

ANC still at odds over how to tackle leaders facing...

The ANC’s top six has been mandated to work closely with its integrity committee to tackle claims of corruption against senior party members

The PPE scandal that the Treasury hasn’t touched

Many government officials have been talking tough about dealing with rampant corruption in PPE procurement but the majority won't even release names of who has benefited from the R10-billion spend

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday