/ 15 July 2014

CPJ reacts to Hlaudi’s ‘statements against media freedom’

SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng.
SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

An international organisation that promotes press freedom, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), has warned controversial SABC chief operating officer (COO) Hlaudi Motsoeneng against taking South Africa’s media freedom backwards.  

CPJ was reacting to Motsoeneng’s proposal to license journalists and increase government regulation of the media. In a letter to Motsoeneng, CPJ expressed concern at what it said were the COO’s “recent statements against media freedom”.  

“South Africa must not become a country to which repressive governments can point in their efforts to legitimise press freedom violations,” said the letter signed by CPJ executive director Joel Simon.  

The letter, copied to Communications Minister Faith Muthambi – who controversially confirmed Motsoeneng to the position of permanent COO – chairperson of Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications Joyce Moloi-Moropa, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe and director of the Press Council Joe Thloloe, among others, was the first reaction from an international media rights body to Motsoeneng’s proposal.  

“CPJ research shows that repressive governments use licensing as a way to suppress critical reporting,” the organisation said, adding that media freedom was a “critical element in the fabric of the new society currently under construction in South Africa”.  

South Africa’s neighbour Zimbabwe has seen weakened media freedom since it introduced the licensing of journalists. “The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials,” CPJ said. “It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favour.” 

Formal submissions
Motsoeneng proposed the licensing of journalists about two weeks ago, saying those who got out of line should be stripped of their licences. He later vowed in a New Age newspaper interview to make a formal submission to that effect to Muthambi. “We will be making these submissions,” he told the newspaper.  

“I am surprised at how Sanef [the South African National Editors’ Forum] has opposed this. This means that they are not doing their job properly,” he was quoted by the New Age newspaper as saying. CPJ said the right to express opinions and share information is guaranteed universally under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the South African Constitution.   

“The notion of licensing journalists has been tried before – and rejected,” Simon said.

CPJ advised Motsoeneng to rather contribute to preserving media freedom. “CPJ urges you to nurture the country’s hard-won freedom and the role of lively, critical and courageous media. It is the job of journalists to ask questions on behalf of citizens and to hold accountable those in power so that the benefits of democracy and development are shared equally among all communities.”  

In his job at the SABC, Motsoeneng has been advocating for 70% of positive news stories, saying that negative news does not build the country.