Tensions between media and ANC on display in South Africa
The African National Congress (ANC) appears adamant about a new media appeals tribunal. The media are just as adamant that the tribunal is an attempt to muzzle critical reporting.
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Clearly then, according to Mbete, something was wrong with the current system of redress against false media allegations. Or more to the point, Mbete and the media are not exactly the best of friends. The former deputy president didn’t seem to keen to engage with Makhanya and Louw on matters concerning the media appeals tribunal, but focused on nitpicking examples raised to illustrate broader issues, rather than tackling with the issues themselves.Skip to next paragraph
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The discussion was quite poorly attended, the politically interested chattering classes perhaps convened in their numbers at the Wits media debate, but a group of student hecklers made it out nonetheless. They sat right at the front of the auditorium, a few meters away from Makhanya, and interrupted the Avusa editor quite a few times, forcing Professor Habib to intervene.
Despite the overall poor impression that the talks made, several key issues could be extracted from the exchanges:
- The government has at least conceded that parts of the Protection of Information Bill are over-reaching and draconian. The key issue is the “national interest” clause, which is so vague and broad that it is encompasses anything. A suggestion is that the government should frame the Protection of Information Bill as a “national security” issue, rather than a “national interest” issue.
- There is no such budging on the issue of the media appeals tribunal. The ANC seems quite adamant on this one. For its part, the media are just as adamant that the tribunal is about muzzling critical reporting, rather than protecting those victimised by the press.
- There is consensus from the ANC and members of the public that the Press Ombudsman is toothless. There is agreement that an apology from a newspaper for inaccurate reporting is not enough. The media say that an apology is quite hurtful and is the best and most accepted system of redress, and the governing party would like to see harsher penalties. However, the media and Press Council concede that the complaints procedure may need redress, but not of the statutory kind.
Knives are out for newspapers. The most concerning thing is that the public seems to be for the media appeals tribunal, either because they genuinely believe the ANC’s contention that people have lost jobs, family and careers because of untruthful journalism, or because they cannot yet stomach “Western-style” reporting that does not revere “elders” and leaders.
It’s going to be a long fight, and could get quite nasty.
(Stephen Grootes was at the same event – read his assessment in the Daily Maverick.)