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'Media Tribunal’ proposal causes furore in South Africa

By Christopher Szabo     Aug 4, 2010 in World
Cape Town - The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) says it is dead set against the government’s new “media tribunal” and will resist it by court action if necessary.
Veteran editor Raymond Louw said Wednesday the proposed tribunal and related Protection of Information Bill “poses all kind of horrors in the gathering of information." News24 reported Louw saying:
"I think one should look at the climate in which this bill has been brought in... It becomes a horrifying list of repressive acts against the media by the government."
Public debate in South Africa is raging around the ruling party’s desire to institute a so-called “media tribunal” as well as regulating what can be reported on and what constitutes a state secret. Government and its ally, the South African Communist Party (SACP), argue the law under consideration is necessary to limit the alleged damage to innocent parties caused by media houses and their newspapers which they claim do not represent the public interest, but only a narrow, predominantly “white” interest. What’s more, the existing Press Ombudsman is made up of journalists, the government says, therefore it cannot be objective in evaluating whether the rights of individuals have been violated or not.
The government youth organisation, the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL), according to Times Live, strongly supports the formation of the tribunal to protect it from:
Spiteful agendas to undermine the integrity of our organisations and leadership. The other Media institutions and organisations such as SANEF and Press Council of South Africa are equally useless in media monitoring and evaluation. This therefore calls for an immediate establishment of a Media Tribunal to save our organisations and leadership from repeated attempts to assassinate their characters and sow divisions. The Media Tribunal should then begin with investigating Newspapers such as the City Press, Mail & Guardian, The Citizen, Sunday Times, The Times, most Afrikaans Newspapers (Die Burger & Rapport) and all Independent Group Newspapers to expose their ill-intentions and programme to sow divisions in the ANC and undermine its integrity. Some of the owners and directors of these Newspapers are active funders and leaders of opposition parties and this explains why the ANC and all its structures are under constant attack."
The SACP made it clear why it supported the tribunal at its 89th birthday celebration reported by PoliticsWeb. Referring to arrests of Communists for publishing in the past, the SACP release said:
Communists didn't make these sacrifices so that a handful of capitalist press barons could decide what “news” is and what isn't. Communist journalists didn't sacrifice their lives so that a foreign media company under an Irishman could dominate the so-called Independent Newspaper Group which, in turn, dominates the English-language print media in our country.
The official opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) has compared the proposed legislation and tribunal to methods of the Apartheid era, the Mail and Guardian reports. DA Leader Helen Zille said:
"We will use every means at our disposal to defend our country and our democracy from the ANC's assault. We will take the fight all the way to the Constitutional Court if necessary. We will never surrender our right to know."
Zille added:
"If passed, the Protection of Information Bill will criminalise investigative journalism," Zille said of the draft Act described by the Freedom of Expression Institute as a bid to cover up wrongdoing and silence criticism of the government."Just like under apartheid, the government will invoke the national interest to cover up every abuse of power."
Members of the South African media were expected to comment further on the issue. The legislation must first pass parliament, which is seen as a rubber stamp, but now faces possible legal action even before becoming law.
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