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ANC faction proposes a second South Africa media tribunal

Ahead of the ruling ANC's party meeting next week, a faction suggests altering the Constitution to include a second South Africa media tribunal. Some see the move as a warning to the media to stop fighting a greater degree of regulation.

By Scott BaldaufStaff Writer / September 13, 2010

Johannesburg, South Africa

The contentious relationship between South Africa’s private news media and its powerful ruling party, the African National Congress, seems almost certain to take a turn for the worse in weeks ahead, as a powerful party stalwarts proposed yet another media watchdog to rein in reporters and news organizations that are not “acting in the national interest.”

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The ANC chapter for Gauteng Province – which includes both South Africa’s political capital of Pretoria and its economic capital of Johannesburg – has proposed creating another group, this one enshrined in the Constitution. It would operate independently of the ANC’s already proposed Media Appeals Tribunal, though it would mirror the first tribunal in its mandate to punish reporters who "undermine" the nation's Constitution."

Some ANC members say the second tribunal proposal may be either a sign of growing pressure from the party rank and file to get tough with the media, or a signal to the media industry to stop fighting and accept the first tribunal.

The proposal – which would violate the country's Constitution – comes just days before the ANC holds its midterm policy review, the National General Council, in Durban, ahead of national elections in 2012.

In its proposal, the Gauteng ANC chapter said that the nation’s privately owned media, “persistently undermines and violates the provisions of the Bill of Rights," and added, "It is therefore important that Parliament investigate and consider the establishment of a statutory body that will have the capacity to balance all of these rights."

While the Gauteng ANC’s proposal may be a trial balloon, it seems to enjoy significant support from powerful leaders within the ANC. Attending the Gauteng meeting were senior ANC leaders Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, businessman Cyril Ramaphosa, and Performance Minister Collins Chabane. Indeed, at a time when the ANC seems riven by factional battles between its nationalist wing, led by Youth League leader Julius Malema, and its trade union allies, the Congress of South Africa Trades Unions, the one issue that seems to unite all factions is their mutual suspicion, if not contempt, for the news media.

“It will be most difficult to convince the ANC to abandon the Media Appeals Tribunal bill, because at a time when there is so much infighting, it is issues like the media tribunal that all factions can agree on,” says Aubrey Matshiqi, a former ANC member who is now a senior political analyst with the Center for Policy Studies in Johannesburg.