Civil Groups to Protest Media Restrictions

by Aug 31, 2010All Articles

By Chantelle Benjamin, 31 August 2010

More than 180 civil organisations and individuals will today announce a major campaign and a week of protest against the Protection of Information Bill.

Journalism schools yesterday added their voice to criticism of the bill and the proposed media appeals tribunal. The South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) yesterday announced a coalition, made up of media, civil society and big business, to lobby the government to reconsider limits on media freedom.

The groundswell against what is seen by many as the government’s efforts to curtail media freedom, has sparked heated debate and protest action such as today’s Right to Know Campaign supported by organisations and individuals such as author Nadine Gordimer and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

A statement objecting to what they call the secrecy bill is to be released at noon today in Cape Town, as well as plans for a week of action, starting on October 19.

The Right to Know campaign, which includes the Institute for Security Studies , Idasa and the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, is based on the belief that the bill undermines efforts to move away from apartheid-era secrecy and makes it difficult to hold the government accountable.

One of the main objections to the bill is that its definition of secrets is so broad that the government could curtail a journalist’s ability to investigate organisations. The media appeals tribunal proposal is also seen as an effort to control the media.

The African National Congress argues that the Press Ombudsman is ineffective and that an alternative to self-regulation is needed.

Yesterday 12 journalism schools signed a statement in which they “rejected the media appeals tribunal and the version of the Protection of Information Bill”.

They also warned of a “climate of intimidation and suspicion” which had led to a “rapid deterioration of the relationship between the state and the media”.

“As scholars and researchers we are not blind to the faults of the South African media and in our scholarship we continue to point out these shortcomings and suggest ways of improving media’s democratic role,” the statement said.

“Critique can only bear fruit in an environment that allows for unhindered investigation, the gathering of sound empirical evidence and the free exchange of ideas.”

They called on the public and civil society to continue to voice their objections to both measures and undertook in the meantime to continue to educate students on their ethical responsibilities.

Sanef legal adviser Okyerebea Ampofo-Anti of Webber Wentzel yesterday said there were “sufficient judgments in the high courts on media freedom (both for and against the media) to prove the media was not operating in a legal vacuum”.

“Our courts have already articulated some of the principles that apply when balancing freedom of expression, dignity and privacy.”


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