African National Congress secretary-general Gwede Mantashe in a report in The Star newspaper on Friday called upon newspaper editors to join the debate on setting up a media tribunal rather than act defensively.
Mantashe said the invitation is in order that the media engage in the debate constructively and exchange ideas rather than defend its territory.
He said the debate will be taking place irrespective.
“It is up to them, if they think they are on the defensive and must take a laager approach to that discussion, they are doing that at their own peril.”
In effect the ANC wants an independent statutory body accountable to Parliament to deal with complaints against newspapers.
This in addition to the Press Ombudsman.
In response :
Firstly the secretary-general is using rhetoric in place of substance. The editors are not defending their turf but rather repeatedly setting out in great detail exactly why a media tribunal can never be allowed in a constitutional democracy like South Africa. If that isn’t the debate what is?
Secondly an independent media tribunal can never be accountable to Parliament because that is the very body that is being kept under scrutiny by the media for abuse and corruption. As we have witnessed in the arms deal matter when it comes to politicians being allowed to have a say in their own policing, issues get swept under the table.
Thirdly the Protection of Information Bill coming at a time when appropriate legislation to cover legitimate security concerns are in place smacks of a cover-up. If this is read together with the proposed tribunal it suggests that if the threat of the act doesn’t put you off — 15-25 years in jail for offenders — try our tribunal.
Fourthly why would information, other than that involving national security, require these draconian measures? The past has shown that the biggest problem with corruption in South Africa lies among our politicians. It is in the interest of national security that this threat to service delivery be exposed. It is in the interest of thieves and scoundrels that it doesn’t.
Fifthly the question of slander and defamation is more than adequately covered by prevailing legislation and there are more than sufficient civil and criminal remedies available to those who feel they have been wronged.
Sixthly is the record of the ANC or its projections for the future so bad that they will do anything to prevent South Africans from being made aware of it? Are we to be told in Mugabe-like fashion when millions are on the brink of starvation that colonialism and apartheid are responsible while a handful of fat cats live like Donald Trump? Is the government seriously expecting the media to condone their hiding of information?
Seventhly, while we are debating, perhaps the secretary-general might respond to my point on the arms deal by explaining how in the light of overwhelming evidence the government has failed to convene an inquiry. After all it’s the same parties telling us to trust them for guidance on what information should be in the public domain.
The Bill and tribunal are not only a bad idea but smack of cover-up on the part of the ANC.
I will over the period leading up to debate be putting out the odd article or two to cover this in detail.