Govt: There’s no intention to limit media freedom

The government is concerned about negative foreign coverage of its perceived attempts to place restrictions on the press and is seeking to meet senior editors to discuss clashing views on its plans, government spokesperson Themba Maseko said on Thursday.

At a briefing on Cabinet’s fortnightly meeting, he said the Government Communication and Information Service (GCIS) was monitoring the media coverage, locally and abroad, over the Protection of Information Bill and the ruling party’s proposal set up a media tribunal that reports to Parliament.

“We do acknowledge that the negative stories are beginning to migrate to the international sphere. We are obviously concerned about that. We think this is something that both Parliament and Cabinet will take into consideration.”

At this stage, there was no plan to withdraw the contentious Bill, though the government would consider the various arguments against the proposed legislation.

Commentators have branded the Bill unconstitutional and a throwback to apartheid-era restrictions on press freedom.


“At this particular point in time there is no decision to withdraw the Bill. However, as submissions come, I think we are not dealing with an intransigent government here,” Maseko said. “So if there are valid, strong arguments being put against the Bill, the government will consider all those submission and, if needs be, it may consider what further action it needs to take.

“Obviously if an impression is created that the Bill is intent on muzzling the media and limiting free speech, it is something that we will be concerned about.”

‘Too much emotion’
The Cabinet had reaffirmed its commitment to meet the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) to discuss “the perception that government is bent on muzzling the media”, Maseko added.

“At that meeting, the government will confirm the fact that there is neither a plan nor an intention on its part to limit media freedom, because muzzling the media would be contrary to the principle of freedom of speech that is enshrined in the Constitution.”

The meeting with Sanef was expected to take place as soon as a mutually convenient date was found.

Maseko said he had personally made contact with Sanef to try to find a suitable date.

“Part of what that meeting must achieve is the creation of an environment for rational and less emotional debate on media freedom,” Maseko said.

The media and the government’s clashing views on whether self-regulation of the industry was sufficient, had to be discussed in a calm manner.

“There is just too much emotion on both sides, which is actually making it difficult for rational discussion and debate to take place,” he said.

“It is a discussion that needs, in my view, to take place without emotion, without people yelling insults at each other, calling each other names, which is what one is observing in a lot of the media stories and articles over the past few weeks.”

‘Rational debate’
He reiterated that the ANC’s proposal for a Media Appeals Tribunal had not yet been adopted by the government, but had to be at the heart of the planned meeting.

“Rational debate is essentially about a discussion of what is the best model for regulating the media.”

He added it was important to understand that there was agreement in the country that there was a need for some kind of regulation.

“The media is of the view that self-regulation is the model, but that there may be a need to change or improve that self-regulation,” he said. “The other proposal from the ruling party is that self-regulation is not a model; it has not worked in the past and you need an alternative.”

Maseko declined to comment on a statement by President Jacob Zuma on Friday questioning the print media’s motives and its ability to judge government’s performance.

The Protection of Information Bill seeks to regulate the classification of information and makes publishing top secret documents a crime punishable with up to 25 years in prison.

The Freedom of Expression Institute has said it appears to be motivated by a desire on the part of government to silence criticism. — 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

Institutions of higher learning should commemorate their casualties

The bust of Matikweni Nkuna at Tshwane University of Technology is an example of how we should honour those who fought for equal access to education

Seals abort pups in mass die-off

There are a number of factors — a pollutant, virus or bacteria or malnutrition — that may have caused the 12 000 deaths on Namibia’s coast.

Deconstructing South Africa’s construction industry performance

The construction industry has contracted sharply, partly due to Covid, and needs to rebalance its focus if it wants to survive

Editorial: SA will be bankrupted by looters

The chickens have finally come home to roost: if we do not end the looting, it will end us

Zuma vs Ramaphosa? Neither is the leader South Africans deserve

Neither statesman could command sufficient authority in an ANC that remains mired in corruption and infighting and at the behest of big capital

E-payments for the unbanked are booming

The pandemic is providing mobile phone network operators with a unique chance to partner with fintech firms and banks to deliver clever e-commerce solutions to the informal sector in Africa
Advertising

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Baby Awa: The miracle baby born on a boat fleeing...

More than 300 000 people in the north of the country have been displaced by militants who ransack villages and then burn them down.

Five suspects arrested in Senzo Meyiwa case

Police minister Bheki Cela announced on Monday that his team has arrested five suspects who were allegedly involved in the killing of former Bafana Bafana captain Senzo Meyiwa.

EFF eyes municipalities ahead of 2021 local government elections

EFF leader Julius Malema says the party is preparing to govern in many municipalities from next year. It is also launching a programme to defend the rights of farm workers

WSU suspends classes and exams to avoid the spread of...

The university says it has to take the precautionary measures because 26 students have tested positive on its East London campus
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday