Update on the State’s Shaka-Like Pincer Movement Against Free Speech (MAT and Protection of Information Bill)
Alert! Shaka would have been proud. His famed pincer movement is being deployed with near balletic nimbleness against the current regime of freedom of speech in South Africa, as attested by many of those whose liberties the state’s twin thrusts of aggression – in the shape of the Media Appeals Tribunal (MAT) and the Protection of Information Bill (PIB) – are closing in on.
Amongst the writers, perhaps the strongest statement against the PIB came from SA PEN. President of the organisation Anthony Fleischer, and two Vice Presidents Raymond Louw and Margie Orford, released a statement over the weekend that unabashedly compares the PIB with apartheid-era press restriction measures:
One of the evils of apartheid was “information classification” and the State’s efforts to control the flow of news and comment. I recall the Rand Daily Mail’s resistance to such trends in apartheid days, and recall the role of the SABC and government media under Afrikaner nationalism. Do we have to watch a repeat of depressing history in the name of a new hegemonic African nationalism? In a constitutional democracy people are meant to be free and the press is meant to be free. Freedom of expression is specifically protected in Clause 16 of our 1996 Constitution. 16 (1) (c) says “freedom to receive or impart information or ideas”.
This was endorsed by, among others, Zakes Mda, who wrote: “I endorse SA PEN’s rejection of the Information Bill. Nothing scares me more than ‘national interest’. It is a nebulous notion defined by a political party to serve its interests. ‘National interest’ is in reality ruling party interest.”
That the two main pincers being flexed by the government are part of a wider, deliberately-orchestrated campaign against the media is an observation made, in short form, by Sunday Times editor Ray Hartley -
Don’t let anyone kid you: There is a systematic move on several fronts to strangle independent critical journalism. It’s happening, chaps.
- and in longer form by The Daily Maverick founder Branko Brkic, who has just published an analysis:
Use Lenin’s old saying: Many times repeated a lie becomes the truth. Use it liberally.
When Blade Nzimande says the media is the greatest threat to South African democracy, it is obvious that the statement has nothing to do with reality. Quite the opposite, actually. No true democratic state can exist without a thriving free media, which has been proven all over the world. On one side, the good doctor probably genuinely believes that the USSR, China, Cuba, Lybia, North Korea and, God bless them, the German Democratic Republic, were or are true genuine democracies. But to the rest of the world they are not. And yet, the same “media threatening our democracy” statements are repeated by so many officials that many people in South Africa will now readily repeat it as an absolute truth, regardless of its non-existing connection with truth. Lenin would have been proud of his little helper.
Veteran journo Guy Berger doesn’t quite see it the same way – but is just as alarmed by the ANC’s moves as his colleagues:
If I was a conspiracy theorist, I’d say there must be a third force at work, aiming to destroy the spirit of the World Cup, including the country’s new rosy international image. It just cannot be simple ineptitude or aberrant activity that explains the triple combo of the Information Bill, the ANC Tribunal and Wa Afrika’s arrest.
Less conspiratorially, though, it’s likely that rather than there being a co-ordinated campaign to straitjacket journalists, it’s more likely that there’s a dumb dynamic of scape-goatism at work.
Simply, the logic is where the political leadership is misguidedly trying to shore up its future by fomenting anger against someone other than itself. Blind to their own shortcomings, they are instead casting around in search of a new enemy for society to blame.
Then there are those plumping for the other point of view, which editors everywhere are duly aware of:
Hartley’s paper, meanwhile, presented the best take on the consequences of the MAT and PIB over the weekend:
Read all about the info bill…while you still can
The information bill and proposed media tribunal pose a threat to media freedom. Rowan Philp outlines some of the things newspapers would not be able to tell you
Reporters who wrote the story about businessman Saki Macozoma being tailed by intelligence agents would have faced at least five years in prison had the new information bill been law at the time.
Tony Yengeni, Jackie Selebi and dozens of other corrupt officials would probably never have faced prosecution, and dozens more infants may have died at an Eastern Cape hospital.
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What you might not have known about
This week, a list of key South African newspaper stories was presented to experts from the SA Law Society, the SA National Editors Forum, media monitoring groups and the heads of journalism at Rhodes and the University of the Witwatersrand.
Either some or all the experts agreed that the following stories might never have appeared:
Beeld newspaper’s series on corruption in the granting of tenders for the Department of Correctional Services, which led to the dismissal of director-general Linda Mti and many other officials – “Tronkhoof verbind met tenderfirmas” – as well as “Kitchen confidential”, the Mail & Guardian’s associated exposé.
Back to the Sunday Times, where author Jonny Steinberg presented a cogent argument for why it’s in the ANC’s interests to curtail current press and speech freedoms; put simply, it’s so no one can tell the truth about its inability to alleviate poverty:
I think that those in public life who take a long view are seeing something else. The ANC governs because its promise that it can better the lives of the poor still holds some credence. That is really its most important claim to power. It is not an easy claim to keep making. Sixteen years after liberation, a greater proportion of adults are idle than at any other time in recent South African history. The government cannot create enough work. As a substitute, it has vastly expanded welfare. It has done so reluctantly and within the constraints of fiscal prudence, but welfare has nonetheless become the single most important thread connecting the ANC to the poor.
SA’s top satire website Hayibo.com has not been left behind:
ANC calls for Free Will Tribunal to curb dangerous thinking
POLOKWANE. President Jacob Zuma and Minister of Uncontested Elections Blade Nzimande have called for a Free Will Tribunal to stop potentially catastrophic terrorist acts such as thinking without written permission from the ANC, and have warned South Africans not to try thinking at home but to leave it to trained professionals.
According to ANC spokesman Masspurge Xenge, the idea for the Free Will Tribunal (FWT) came to Nzimande during an evening of nostalgia and bonhomie spent with other unelected Members of Parliament watching old home movies of Stalin shooting his family pets.
“Comrade Commissar Minister Blade said, ‘Thanks, Comrade-babe, you read my mind.’
“There was a long silence, punctuated only by the sound of chewing, at the end of which Comrade Fikile Mbalula somewhat nervously asked if Comrade Commissar Mrs Nzimande could really read minds.
Politicsweb has a story on the old National Party’s plans for a media tribunal which lays out rather a large degree of confluence with the ANC’s:
September 1979: Schlebusch says measures needed to curb abuse of press freedom, McClurg responds
Minister Alwyn Schlebusch’s proposals for a media tribunal (‘statutory press council’) to curb the abuse of press freedom:
The idea had arisen to empower the Newspaper Press Union by legislation, and with the permission of the minister concerned or the State President, to issue regulations to combat the abuse of press freedom, the Minister of Justice and the Interior, Mr Alwyn Schlebusch, said yesterday (September 18 1979).
Addressing the annual congress of the NPU at Skukuza in the Kruger National Park, Mr Schlebusch said such regulations could make provision for a Press Council constituted more or less like the present one. It could consist of several members of whom two must be active journalists (one English-speaking and one Afrikaans-speaking).
Its functions would include the following:
* A press code with which all newspapers published in the Republic must comply, irrespective of whether they are members of the NPU, or not.
Press Ombudsman Joe Thloloe has weighed in against the tribunal:
Have we all lost our heads in the debate over the ANC’s proposal to get Parliament to investigate the possibility of creating a statutory media appeals tribunal?
On the face of it, there is nothing wrong with such an investigation if all the stakeholders get a fair hearing. Also reassuring is the constant refrain that the outcome of the investigation will not violate the press freedom guarantees in South Africa’s Constitution.
However, a careful reading of the discussion paper on media diversity and ownership, and particularly its “Recommendations and processing of the congress resolution on the Media Appeals Tribunal” suggests there is much more that is not being said.
South Africa’s political cartoonists have signed a statement against “politically and religiously motivated threats against the media”:
South Africa’s General Council of the Bar has called the PIB “unnecessary, unconstitutional and undesirable”:
THE Protection of Information Bill was unnecessary, unconstitutional and undesirable, the General Council of the Bar submitted to Parliament yesterday — adding its voice to the widely held view that the bill would not pass constitutional muster.
Parliament’s ad-hoc committee on the bill has received and heard public submissions on it, but State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele has yet to respond to them.
The Bar Council’s submission said the bill had “a number of dangerous features, which are inimical to the very constitutional values and rights which the bill purports to be safeguarding”.
Zapiro chimes in at TimesLive:
Ronnie Kasrils, who, as former intelligence services minister, first sponsored the Protection of Information Bill, has written a lengthy op-ed for The Daily Maverick on how it’s changed since 2008 and why its current version should be stopped in its tracks:
I do not claim that the first version of the Bill got it right in every respect. Indeed my ministry issued a set of explanatory notes on the Bill in June 2008 to acknowledge certain deficiencies and promote discussion and debate to address them. We hoped the consultative process with the public through the Parliamentary intelligence committee would serve to highlight the issues, avoid unintended consequences and point to solutions. Regrettably, we were wrong in this assumption.
Substantial revisions have been made to the Bill. Whereas my motivation was to reduce unnecessary classification and encourage declassification, the 2010 Bill now before Parliament does the opposite.
Perhaps the most striking example of the move away from openness in the 2010 Bill is the complete removal of a section that provided for the “automatic declassification” of certain classifications. Automatic declassification is the immediate and self-executing declassification of information based on certain events or conditions. Also deleted from the 2008 Bill was a provision for the automatic declassification (with limited exceptions) of all information classified before 10 May 1994 (i.e. apartheid-era classifications). This reflects an inexplicable desire to maintain apartheid-era secrecy. Finally, a provision requiring the declassification of all information previously classified as “restricted” has been removed from the 2010 Bill.
Since the Bill makes no provision for this level of classification, it means documents classified as “restricted” are left in a form of limbo.
If we are to deepen our democracy, now is the time to withdraw this Bill in its present form from Parliament and engage in the democratic process of real consultation.
Everyone’s talking about COSATU’s stance on the MAT, which City Press says it’s set to back, but which The Daily Maverick‘s Stephen Grootes says it’s set to back so cunningly as to remove its sting:
In a paper for discussion at the federation’s central executive committee meeting which starts tomorrow, Cosatu officials Patrick Craven and Prakashnee Govender say members of the commission should act with integrity and courage.
However, it also warns against pitfalls if a regulator does not operate at arms-length from the state.
“The problem arises when a regulatory body like either Icasa (Independent Communications Authority of SA) or MAT has to deal with complaints when the government itself is party to a dispute.”
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Leaked, perhaps, to City Press over the weekend, a proposal that will be discussed by the federation’s central executive committee on Monday. In its nuts and bolts it says yes, set up a media appeals tribunal. Include on it representatives from government, the media (we are talking about the print media here, but only newspapers) and civil society organisations. So far so good. Here’s the brilliant bit. When a story concerning government is brought to the tribunal, the government representatives have to recuse themselves.
It’s political genius.
Because it says to the ANC, you’re right, the current system isn’t working and we need some kind of oversight of the media. We need to make journalists worry a little when they get things wrong. But it removes the sting, the worry that the ANC, through the government representatives, will be able to crack down and unduly punish (or to use Jackson Mthembu’s phrase “take punitive action”) reporters for writing pieces that don’t necessarily reflect government’s best side.
What makes it so elegant, is that it’s difficult for the ANC to argue against it.
The New York Times has picked up the story:
Business executives, civic leaders and journalists have responded with increasingly dire warnings that stringent measures being advanced by the governing African National Congress would threaten press freedom, enshroud much official activity in secrecy, potentially punish offending journalists or whistle-blowers with up to 25 years in prison and undermine the fight against corruption in the continent’s largest economy.
On Friday, the South African writers Nadine Gordimer, André Brink, Achmat Dangor, John Kani and Njabulo Ndebele added their voices to the protests. “This is the threat of a return to the censorship under apartheid,” said Ms. Gordimer, three of whose novels were banned in that era.
Major update: the Press Council of SA (PCSA) is to undertake a complete review of its constitution:
The Press Council of SA (PCSA) is to undertake a complete review of its constitution in the wake of criticisms which have emerged in debate over the ANC’s planned Media Appeals Tribunal.
“We are dealing with a system of self-regulation, not regulation from outside,” Joe Thloloe said about the composition of the team which would undertake the review.
The review would be conducted by: the council’s deputy chair Bewyn Petersen; The Star’s editor Moegsien Williams; University of the Witwatersrand journalism Professor Franz Kruger; and businessman and Press Appeals Panel (PAP) public representative Simon Mantel.
Two of those whom Max du Preez described as being chief targets of the ANC, Sunday Times editor Ray Hartley and Mail & Guardian editor Nic Dawes, have gone public with their thoughts:
Hartley, writing on his blog:
There is no grassroots anger at the media, unless you include that which occurs when populist leaders call for it at meetings.
All of this is sophistry of the worst kind.
What is being manufactured in the mind of the public is a popular uprising against intellectuals. What is being concealed is an attack by a wealth-accumulating elite on those who questions their bona fides as champions of the poor.
Dawes, writing in the UK Independent:
It sounds alarmist so soon after the warm glow of World Cup achievement but South Africa is on the cusp of a choice that will determine our trajectory for decades. The governing ANC can opt for the vigour and openness that characterise free societies, or it can begin to close down the awkward, plural voices that enrich our democracy but sometimes discomfit those in power.
With the proposed introduction of statutory regulation of the press and legislation that would dramatically curtail freedom of information, the party and the government it leads is opting clearly for the latter course. At the moment it is the press that is braced for the onset of unseasonable storms, but the chill ultimately will settle across our entire society.
25 August: Analyst Steven Friedman says it’s not the media that’s imperiled by the PIB, it’s the ordinary South African:
Sometimes the national debate’s confusions can help the grassroots citizens it usually ignores. This is surely why the Protection of Information Bill is being denounced by the media as a threat to journalists, despite the probability that it would do much to imperil the rights of citizens, particularly the poor, and little or nothing to threaten the media and those who work in it.
Media coverage of the bill has been long on rhetoric and short on accuracy and thoroughness. Any of us who have not been living in a bubble know that it threatens to allow the government to classify information and to jail anyone who publishes that information. What few of us know — including, probably, many who write and comment on the bill — is that section 17 qualifies this.
M&G editor Nic Dawes isn’t impressed with Friedman, however:
What Friedman fails to understand is that info could be classified “in good faith” and unwittingly conceal wrongdoing. Sec 17 no help there.
30 August: Monde Nkasawe, who works for the Eastern Cape premier, says that the media is responsible for its own crisis of credibility:
No doubt South Africans, with their deep appreciation of their struggle for national liberation, the consequences of which are enshrined in our Constitution, will join the media in resisting any encroachment on our freedoms, including that of the media. It is therefore not my purpose here to dispute the basis of the media’s reaction to the proposed tribunal or to the Bill. Neither am I questioning the ANC’s and government’s underlying motivation.
Rather, I think the whole episode throws into sharp relief the fact the media is facing a severe crisis of credibility, at the root of which is its own failure to define properly the meaning of our democracy and its role in it. Numerous attempts have been made in the past to engage with the media on its role, not only in nation-building and national reconciliation but also in the critical task of transforming our society.
André Brink sê: “Dit is sekerlik die grootste magsvertoon deur Suid-Afrikaanse skrywers ooit: swart, bruin en wit, wat al eendragtig saamgestaan het teen ’n owerheid se beplande aanslag”:
Die grootste magsvertoon deur Suid-Afrikaanse skrywers tot nog toe.
Só bestempel die skrywer André P. Brink die feit dat meer as 400 skrywers hul name reeds by die skrywerspetisie teen beoogde mediawetgewing asook ’n ANC-mediatribunaal gevoeg het.
Nadine Gordimer, ’n wenner van die Nobelpryswenner vir letterkunde, en Brink is vir die petisie verantwoordelik.
31 August: SANEF has launched a “coalition for free speech”:
A coalition has been launched to emphasise the importance of free speech to all sectors of society, not just the media, the SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) has announced.
“The Coalition for Free Speech will champion a collective drive by media, big business and civil society to amplify the importance of free speech as a pillar of our democracy and not just a matter which concerns media,” Sanef said in a statement.
Sanef members adopted the introduction of the coalition at a meeting in Johannesburg on Monday.
1 September 10: City Press editor Ferial Haffajee is, to put it mildly, not pleased with the “comrades”:
Here’s her column:
You have to ask yourself what SACP secretary-general Blade Nzimande and his deputy Jeremy Cronin as well as the ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu have been reading for the past 14 years.
In their current attacks on the media, the common theme which comes through is that all journalists are unreconstructed neoliberals, marching in time to a free market drum-beat and blind to the blight of poverty and unemployment. This is nonsense as some of my best media friends are Marxists and often unreconstructed ones too. Others are a mostly socially-conscious bunch, near obsessed with where the country is at and where it is headed to.
2 September: Ashwin Desai and Heinrich Böhmke have written a rather amusing satirical piece on a certain class of unregulated professionals who can wreak serious havoc when they put their minds to it:
There is a class of citizen in our country whose occupation gives them enormous influence. They are capable of spreading unsolicited opinion and news that affects us profoundly. What they say can cause stock exchanges to fall, reputations to be destroyed and fear and panic to be sown among the public.
Despite the incredible power they wield there are no formal qualifications needed to hold this job nor do practitioners have to pass any professional enquiry into their moral fitness. They are appointed by their bosses and are answerable largely only to them.
Naturally, there is some oversight in the industry but it takes the form of self-regulation. This self-regulation is weak if the work of their ombudsmen is surveyed. Unlike doctors and lawyers getting struck from the roll for misconduct, that does not occur to them. When wrongdoers are chucked out it is only into the recycle bin. Soon enough, though, they come back, either rejoining their old employer or, very often, a competitor.
03 Sep: Sportswriter Kevin McCallum has received a memo from the MAT:
Memo from the sports division of the Media Appeals Tribunal (elect).
To: Sports editors, beat writers, columnists, sub editors and other bloody agents.
Re: Directives for journalists covering SA sports teams to ensure fair and accurate reporting that is not uncomfortable, un- opinionated, unbiased, unadventurous, unhealthy, ungodly, unarmed, unassuming, unhygienic, unblemished, uncouth, undemonstrative, understandable, undesirable and unemotional, and that forwards the national interest (soon to be copyrighted).
6 September: The ANC’s Jackson Mthembu sprays the Mail & Guardian with rhetorical bullets; and the paper’s former editor, Anton Harber, returns fire:
ANC RESPONSE TO MAIL AND GUARDIAN NEWSPAPER REPORTING ON ANC LEADERSHIP
In the weeks leading to our National General Council (NGC) of our movement, there has been a pattern of reporting emanating from a particular weekly newspaper that has at its core the vilification of the ANC President, Cde Jacob Zuma and other leaders of the ANC. This vilification has in the main, been sourced from faceless, nameless and ghost sources.
Editions after editions, the said newspaper has consistently, made allegations to the effect that the ANC Youth League, COSATU, and some faceless members of the ANC Veterans League, as well as some faceless members of the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC), are no longer supporting President Jacob Zuma as the president of the ANC and the president of South Africa. The said newspaper raised these claims without any shred evidence from the leadership of all these organisations mentioned, again all these sourced from ghosts.
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The ANC attack on the M&G: Dissected
The nub of his criticism is that the M&G, using “ghost sources”, has made a series of claims about the president which he says are false. He is upset that the paper said that some elements of the Youth League, Cosatu, the Veterans’ League and the ANC executive, no longer support President Jacob Zuma. He challenges the paper’s suggestion that Zuma has been traveling the country to consolidate his power, and that his intervention in the public service strike was a bid to shore up his personal position.
Mthembu is upset that the M&G has not accepted the official version of events: that the president enjoys full and unequivocal support, that his travel was part of a wider NEC mandate for senior leadership to prepare for the National General Council and that the president’s strike intervention was a logical follow-up to ANC calls for a resolution. What is interesting about his criticism is that he seems upset that the M&G has not simply taken at face value the ANC’s official explanations for these things, but added their own interpretation, analysis and reporting.
Is this conscious naiveté, is it just bluster, or does he seriously think that political journalism is about reproducing ANC statements? What is one to make of this sweeping statement: “The ANC NEC, including President Zuma, enjoys the full confidence of the entire members, its branches, its regions and its provinces”? This is a claim so ludicrous, so patently ridiculous, that it stretches Mthembu’s credibility way beyond its limits. Does he expect the media just to repeat that?
7 Sep: According to Ray Hartley, the NPA is set to drop all charges against journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika:
NPA is going to withdraw all charges against Mzilikazi wa Afrika. Bheki Cele owes him an apology. A big one.
Sipho Hlongwane of The Daily Maverick has written an article on a statement on media freedom released today by news agencies Thomson Reuters, Bloomberg, Associate Press and the AFP:
Four of the world’s largest news agencies have added their voices to the mounting tsunami of opposition against the proposed media appeals tribunal and Protection of Information Bill. Agence France Presse, The Associated Press, Bloomberg and Reuters have written to President Jacob Zuma, expressing their concerns. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.
“Agence France Presse, The Associated Press, Bloomberg and Reuters welcome your call for debate on media and media freedoms in South Africa,” their letter reads. “As international news agencies operating in South Africa, we would like to raise concerns that a proposal for a media tribunal and the Protection of Information Bill could restrict our work and the work of other journalists.”
Although couched in the language of diplomacy, the message is very clear. The international media community will not stand quietly by as the ruling party government seeks to quash the freedoms of media and expression by restricting the free-flow of information and granting the State punitive oversight on media affairs.
8 Sep: Steven Friedman presses his complaint against the SA media:
OF COURSE the press must be free. But why does it not use its freedom to give us the information we need?
Government attacks on the press have ensured that it is hard to question journalists’ priorities for fear of being seen to encourage censorship. But it should be possible both to defend the press’s right to tell us everything we need to know and to complain that, in the main, it does not tell us — to oppose not only the controls politicians place on papers but those journalists place on themselves.
The point is illustrated by two articles which appeared recently in this newspaper. Obviously, we might not know about them if a newspaper had not published them. But the fact neither has become a major subject of media attention shows just how much South African reality press coverage is ignoring.
9 September: President Zuma shares his thoughts on the Media Appeals Tribunal in Parliament, saying the MAT will enhance the media’s self-regulation:
The proposed media appeals tribunal is intended to “strengthen, complement and support the current self-regulatory institutions”, President Jacob Zuma said on Wednesday.
Replying to questions in the National Assembly, he said the African National Congress’s (ANC) resolution on a proposed media tribunal “promotes media freedom within the context of the human rights ethos” of the Constitution.
“It promotes the view that the right of freedom of expression should not be elevated above other equally important rights, especially the right to human dignity, which is also enshrined in the Constitution,” he said.
Meanwhile, COSATU has commented on the arrest of Mzilikazi wa Afrika, following the dropping of all charges against the journalist:
“There needs to be a thorough public enquiry into the whole episode, including who ordered the arrest and on what charges, and we shall demand strong action taken against anyone found to have acted illegally,” Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven said in a statement.
“Cosatu has often been critical of some of the media, but all journalists and editors can be assured that the federation will always support them to the hilt when they are investigating and exposing corruption and crime,” Craven said.
The trade union federation and ANC ally said it would “fight any attempt to restrict their [journalist's] access to incriminating evidence or to stop them naming and shaming those involved”.
10 Sep: The ANC’s Zizi Kodwa says the only threat to media freedom in SA comes from, erm, the media itself:
“The African National Congress’ (ANC) proposed Media Appeals Tribunal is not a threat to the media freedom. The media is,” he said in Durban on Thursday night.
Kodwa was speaking during the debate on the proposed Media Appeals Tribunal and the Protection of Information Bill organised by the Alternative Development Centre and the Mail and Guardian newspaper.
Kodwa said the real threat to the media freedom was the denial that there were inefficiencies in the media such as shady journalism and inaccuracies.
“There is a lot of vulgarity in the media and South African Editors Forum does nothing about it because they know that they are also guilty,” said Kodwa.
Also: SANEF and the ANC met today and agreed to disagree; Mandy de Waal has analysis:
Press release from SANEF
The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) and the Press Council of SA, met the ANC at its head office in Johannesburg this morning. The meeting was requested by Sanef to discuss the relationship between the media and the ruling party, the Protection of Information Bill and the ANC’s proposed Media Appeals Tribunal.
Sanef stated its concerns that relationships between the ANC and the media had deteriorated since after the World Cup and that the Protection of Information Bill and the Media Appeals Tribunal (MAT) represent a threat to media freedom and the free -flow of information.
The editors’ body also reiterated its commitment to media self-regulation and strong opposition to the MAT, which it feels represents an unwarranted, external control of the independent media. Both Sanef and the press council explained the processes they had undertaken to address concerns about the inadequacy of self-regulation and to strengthen the system.
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de Waal’s report:
Mthembu said the ANC no longer took concerns to the self-regulatory system because of what he described as its failure. “Of course, the ANC said that there were many, many violations of its own that have happened from the side of the media that it has not taken to the Press Council because it just doesn’t feel that it is worth doing so. It is not effective, and that is why many of its complaints have not landed with the ombudsman because it feels the ombudsman is not an appropriate forum.”
Pappaya presented a different perspective, saying the discussion was not about an outright failure of a self-regulatory system, but rather about gaps in the system that were being aggressively addressed. “There was agreement that there were gaps and that (the system) needed to be strengthened. We particularly addressed aspects related to these inadequacies and that we were totally committed to strengthening the current system. We really believe self-regulation is good for our Constitution, it protects media freedom, it is good for our democracy and we will look at strengthening this system.”
The latest edition of The Big Issue features a free speech cover story:
By Chris Stein
nternational media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranks South Africa’s press as among the most free on the African continent, but this vote of confidence is likely to be quickly withdrawn if the Protection of Information Bill and the Media Tribunal are pushed through by the ANC-run government.
Reporters Without Borders is drawing unfavourable comparisons between the two proposed measures and repressive laws used to curtail press freedom in other parts of Africa.
Nigeria and Zimbabwe have their Official Secrets Acts. In Kenya, it’s called the Communications Bill. In South Africa, it would be called the Protection of Information (POI) Bill.
Both the Bill and the proposed Media Tribunal, which would have the power to sanction journalists for misconduct, have come under fierce criticism from journalists and advocacy groups in South Africa and elsewhere.
14 Sep: The Mail & Guardian has as nice round up of comments by prominent folks on the Protection of Information (“Secrecy”) Bill:
Zackie Achmat, activist and founder of the Treatment Action Campaign
“The media does not give real voice to the vulnerable and marginalised in society but at times they provide the only voices raised in defense of people whose pensions are stolen, whose children die in our hospitals, of people whose water has been poisoned by the mining industry, workers left unpaid by unscrupulous bosses and workers who die in accidents.” — Writing Rights
Business Day‘s Tamar Khan makes the point that the PIB/POI/”Secrecy Bill” will harm civil activism in SA:
The decision last week by activists to publicise confidential government reports on provincial health departments would have been a crime if the proposed Protection of Information Bill were in force, activists warned yesterday.
“If the bill were in place we’d be breaking the law,” said Nathan Geffen, a researcher for Section 27, which leaked the reports with the Rural Health Advocacy Project. The bill would give officials wide powers to classify information as confidential and imposes stiff penalties — including jail terms of up to 25 years — if such material is published.
“Nathan and all his colleagues would be in jail if the info bill was in place,” said Hennie van Vuuren, director of the Institute for Security Studies’ Cape Town office. And if they had shared it with the writer of this article, so would she. She could be arrested for possession of the documents.
16 Sep: the Mail & Guardian‘s Rapule Tabane responds to the ANC’s Jackson Mthembu’s accusations about the newspaper, saying that the ANC is afflicted by “persecution mania”:
In his seminal work The Conquest of Happiness, philosopher Bertrand Russell explains the notion of persecution mania: “Some people imagine that others wish to kill them, or imprison them or do to them some other grave injury. Often the wish to protect themselves against imaginary persecutors leads them into acts of violence, which make it necessary to restrain their liberty.”
I could not but recall Russell’s book after having my Sunday morning spoiled by reading a piece of fiction written by ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu, in which he accuses our paper of all sorts of plots and conspiracies.
Mthembu rounds up his piece by asking, like a helpless victim: “We once again raise the question: Who will protect us from such gutter and sensational journalism? What is our recourse?”
28 Sep: Podcast with the ANC’s Pallo Jordan, who explains “what the [Media Appeals Tribunal] will be about”:
- Not playing? Listen at TimesLive
Also: advocate Pansy Tlakula has urged Zuma to intervene and chance the PIB/POI/Protection of Information (“Secrecy”) Bill:
Advocate Pansy Tlakula has urged President Jacob Zuma to ensure that the proposed Protection of Information Bill is amended.
In a letter of appeal which is in the possession of the Sunday Independent, and which Tlakula forwarded to Zuma this week in her capacity as the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa for the African Commission, Tlakula said the bill falls short of the international human rights standards to which South Africa subscribes.
And it may lead to censorship because “any information can be made secret in the name of national security”.
During the ANC’s recent NGC, Guy Berger analysed the MAT move:
Faced with mega-messes in education and joblessness (not to mention Aids), the ANC conference this week thought it could make easy headway with regard to muzzling the press.
It’s not taxing to agree on the statutory Media Appeals Tribunal (MAT). Not like wrestling with the ongoing problems at the country’s state-owned, and biggest, media house — the SABC.
But delegates forgot Amilcar Cabral’s slogan to avoid lies and claims of easy victories. The notion that a conference decision on the MAT will sort out the ANC’s press problem is a delusion for many reasons.
- The politicians have under-estimated the price of making a scapegoat of the press. The many unpersuaded, but influential, constituencies wanting to protect press freedom against the MAT have had their genuine concerns disregarded. The ANC has lost their trust.
- There’s also damage to South Africa’s international reputation by having pushed ahead with the MAT. Evidently, the conference forgot that that when you mess with the domestic press, the institution’s international counterparts mobilise in defence. It’s the ruling party that will feel the fall-out.
Blade Nzimande, however, is resolute that the MAT should go ahead:
THE media is the biggest threat to “the social revolution”, and unemployment, poverty and HIV/AIDS are the biggest dangers to the constitution, says South African Communist Party (SACP) general secretary Blade Nzimande.
Speaking to loud ovations at the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union’s (Nehawu) n ational c ongress in Ekurhuleni yesterday, Mr Nzimande, who is also higher education and training minister, said: “We have a huge liberal offensive against our democracy”.
“The print media is the biggest perpetrator of this liberal thinking,” he said.
Thus, a media appeals tribunal was essential to protect socialism’s future in SA.
01 Oct: International PEN has passed a resolution against the PIB:
The Ghanaian Centre with South African, Malawian, Austrian, English, Somali-speaking and Zambian Centres co-sponsored a resolution on South Africa’s controversial “Protection of Information Bill” which “has a number of very worrying aspects.” The Bill proposes that access to information be severely curtailed to protect South Africa’s “national interest” but which actually is a euphemism for taking away the freedoms widely enjoyed in the country following the demise of Apartheid. The resolution therefore calls on the support of all PEN centres and International PEN in opposing the Bill.
11 Oct: Justice Malala and the ANC are firing shots across each other’s bows:
First, Malala questions the ANC’s role in the liberation of South Africa:
The ANC did not set us free
ANC leader Pallo Jordan, writing in this newspaper last week, asserted that because of the struggles of his comrades I am able to write my “wordy, self-righteous columns in The Times, certain that he (I) won’t spend that night in prison.”
I am not sure that I won’t spend tonight or any other night in prison. I am also not certain that the leaders of the ANC won’t throw me in jail. Because, as outlined by ANC veteran Oyama Mabandla in an article in African Affairs in 1990, large chunks of the ANC hates free speech and hates people who speak truth to power.
Which is why this same ANC – that Jordan claims fought for me – arrested and detained him for six weeks in 1983.
The ANC, feathers ruffled, used Malala’s column as justification for its call for an MAT:
Justice Malala a disgrace to journalism – ANC
What then gives Justice Malala and The Times newspaper the right to treat all these courageous democrats with the hate and disdain that his article espouses? How dare he treat the most painful period in our history in such a dismissive and disdainful manner and the countless sacrifices that were made to liberate us from apartheid in such a contemptuous manner just to score cheap political points in unrelated discussions?
The Times permitting of the revisionist interpretation of the history of our struggle also displays another disturbing tendency. It echoes apartheid propaganda as we used to know it during the struggle to liberate our country from the apartheid system. We dare The Times editorial, owners and management to look through the apartheid propaganda archives to see if they will not find similar sentiments.
Malala fires right back with an article on the ANC’s paranoia:
Paranoia does not become us
There is a common, yet fallacious and illogical, belief in South Africa that the dreaded “reactionary” media are the only people who point out the failings of the government and its leaders.
This is totally untrue and such an assertion merely aims to vilify the media and divert attention from the real and pressing issues at hand.
The problems that bedevil South Africa are very clear to many leaders in the ANC-led tripartite alliance. Here is what two of them had to say in just the past week.
Speaking at the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union’s seventh national congress, in Johannesburg, union president Thobile Ntola said: “While there is poverty, this government is worried about a media tribunal. They are worried that their tenders will be discovered. They want the media to be gagged so that their corruption is not discovered.”
Meanwhile, Zapiro is back at it, pillorying Blade Nzimande for his stance that the media is the biggest threat to SA’s democracy:
18 Oct: Here’s programme for the the Right2Know campaign’s week of action against the POI:
Meanwhile, it would appear that the government is softening its position on the MAT:
Media ‘allowed space’ to reform
The ANC will drop its proposal for a statutory media appeals tribunal if the industry substantially reforms its self-regulatory mechanisms, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said yesterday.
He told reporters after a two-day meeting between editors and the government that the ANC would make submissions to the South African Press Council’s current review of the functioning of the press ombudsman’s office.
SA media tribunal wars: Is that an armistice we see?
A joint indaba between the SA National Editors’ Forum and the ANC yielded some surprising results – the most important of them being a call by the deputy president for cooler heads. If only that had been the case from the very beginning. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
Deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe says the media is going to be given some time to tighten up its own self-regulation mechanisms before the ANC moves to set up a media appeals tribunal. But there have been so many different voices on this debate from within the ANC itself, it is difficult to know if he actually means it – and are his thoughts shared by the rest of the ruling party.
As Malika Ndlovu points out, the pressure from civil society seems to be getting results – but it’s not the time to slacken the pace:
South Africa: the pressure is working!
The pressure is working! The public outcry against the ANC’s unconstitutional media and secrecy measures – and our 32,000 strong petition – has already helped force the government to “tone down” and “rethink” their approach!
But South Africa’s democracy is at risk — the devil is in the detail and Parliament is still debating the Secrecy Bill that would block the media from exposing corruption and abuse of power, and allow government and security agencies to operate without public accountability.
19 Oct: The English Academy of Southern Africa has released a statement of concern on the POI/PIB/”Secrecy Bill” and the Mat:
22 Oct: state security minister Siyabonga Cwele has just urged parliament to take no account of calls for incorporating a “public interest defence” into the PIB/POI/”Secrecy Bill”:
State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele on Friday urged Parliament’s special committee dealing with the draft protection of information bill not to include a “public interest” defence in the bill.
Serious consideration had been given to the submission to create a section on defences in the bill, he told the committee in his presentation.
However, “we remain convinced that conceding to such a demand would be tantamount to shredding this bill even before it becomes law”, he said.
~ ~ ~
01 Nov: Zuma is an MAT recidivist, apparently. After Kgalema Mothlanthe backtracked on the tribunal – see under 18 Oct, above – Zuma has put it front and centre again:
Zuma said the ruling party would not allow the media to undermine the right of the poor.
“That is why the ANC in its wisdom called for the exploration of the need for a media tribunal.
“The organisation will continue processing the resolutions of both Polokwane and the NGC [national general council] in Durban in this regard,” he said.
4 Nov: Comedians Corné and Twakkie have decided to take a stand in favour of the POI/PIB/Secrecy Bill:
Statement from Corné And Twakkie
Ignorant is Bliss
On November 5 2010 Corne and Twakkie will lead a denemonstration in front of parliament in support of our glorious government’s proposed legislation to gag that irritating media and cancel the freedom of human speech. Thank goodness, it’s about time. Our denemonstration will show what kind of a society we can be if only we would trust our golden leaders in government in all matters and tell us what to think and what to believe and who to listen to.
16 February 2011: as the POI/”Secrecy Bill” deliberations plod forward, the Right2Know campaign has got into hot water for an in-parliament protest (which, apparently, didn’t differ much from their other in-parliament protests, but which ANC MPs have singled out for “investigation”):
On Tuesday 15 February 2011, a delegation of Right2Know Campaign supporters attended a sitting of the Parliamentary Committee handling the Protection of Information Bill where the Minister of State Security was expected to make an appearance. As members of the opposition parties staged a walk-out of the sitting (alleging that the Committee did not have a Parliamentary mandate to sit), supporters of the Right2Know Campaign covered there their faces with masks depicting the Minister Cwele and held up placards reading: Cwele, Minister of Secrets!
18 Feb 11: Bono of U2 gives an interview to the Mail & Guardian that touches on freedom of speech issues:
Transparency, Bono argues, is at the heart of the development agenda. “This is more important in fighting poverty than anything else we do … it is a huge multiplier. We see corruption as a bigger killer than HIV/Aids, malaria [and] TB put together. Transparency is the vaccine and … the syringe [is] technology.”
…and SANEF rejects any legal definition of journalism:
The South African National Editors’ Forum objects to a call from MPs to have their profession legally defined in order for members to be exempted from the provisions of the Protection of Personal Information Bill on the grounds that this would require registration of the media.
Update 25 May: The ANC is roaring ahead to fast-track the Secrecy Bill; top links:
MPs cry foul as ANC starts voting on info bill
Acrimony erupted over the protection of information bill on Tuesday as the ANC began voting in its proposals for the contentious draft law, leaving opposition MPs and activists to cry foul.
Democratic Alliance MP David Maynier said the ruling party appeared to be reneging on concessions that it made before Parliament went into recess for the municipal elections.
ANC in new bid to ram through ‘secrecy bill’
The African National Congress (ANC) yesterday began using its majority muscle to push the controversial “secrecy bill” through Parliament — abandoning a consensus-seeking approach and looking to outvote the opposition if necessary.
The bill contains harsh prison sentences for people found guilty of divulging classified information, and has been widely criticised as a restriction on freedom of information. Critics also charge that it will be used to keep scandals involving high-ranking state officials out of the public eye.
ANC poised to press on with secrecy bill
Less than a week after the local government elections, the ANC has already dusted off the controversial Protection of Information Bill.
The ruling party said yesterday that it could not allow debate on the bill to continue forever, sparking heated exchanges in parliament.
ANC MP Cecil Burgess, chairman of the ad hoc committee drafting the bill, said contentious clauses would be put to a vote if the committee failed to agree.
The ANC’s fast and furious parliamentary deliberation over the Info Bill, going through the motions
In the face of sustained opposition to the Protection of Information Bill (better known as the “protection of information from investigative journalism bill”), the ANC is pushing the speedometer needle well into the danger zone as it chases deadlines at breakneck speed. But the question remains: Will it swap its Ferrari for its trusted bulldozer in the end anyway? By T O MOLEFE.
Operating under obvious pressure from above, ANC MPs grew increasingly agitated during Tuesday’s meeting of the ad hoc committee on the Protection of Information Bill. The source of their annoyance was the slow progress on deliberating clauses in the bill, and accused DA and ACDP MPs of intentionally delaying progress.
Update 1 June: Ronnie Kasrils says that the rush to complete the “Secrecy Bill” process is too hasty:
Letter from Ronnie Kasrils, 1 June 2011
Even at this late stage, one would remind our legislators of the adage, “more haste less speed.”
The rush to complete the Protection of Information Bill by the parliamentary committee is worrying and will lead to huge problems and unnecessary tensions in the future. I hate to envisage the unforeseen consequences. It will certainly undermine public trust in the intelligence and security services at a time when confidence needs to be built.
The issues under discussion are complex and sensitive and we need to ensure the proposed legislation does not undermine our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Discussions at parliamentary committee stage so far have not inspired public confidence that the issues have been sufficiently canvassed and considered. All agree that the outdated 1982 Act must be repealed and that a democratic state has the need to protect sensitive state secrets.
To this end it is noteworthy that the Bill recognises the harm of excessive secrecy. However what is of concern is that the proposed legislation is excessively broad and unfocussed; certain of the penalties (other than that relating to espionage) are consequently extremely harsh; and the crucial need for a “public interest” defence clause is ignored.
Update 14 June 11: An SA version of Wikileaks, anyone? Times LIVE has the story:
In a bid to counter the ANC’s determination to pass the bill into law, expats in Australia and Scotland are fine-tuning a website that will allow citizens to expose corruption without fear of being persecuted.
The website, sagovleaks.com, is to be launched soon and will mirror the WikiLeaks site – which publishes private, secret and classified documents from anonymous news sources, news leaks and whistle-blowers.
Update 24 June 11: The ANC is apparently making a few concessions on the PIB/Secrecy Bill…
The ANC has announced major concessions on the Protection of Information Bill, dropping the mandatory prison sentences for whistle-blowers who leak state secrets and narrowing the authority to classify information.
ANC negotiator Luwellyn Landers told the ad hoc committee of parliament processing the secrecy bill that the bill should be redrafted to ensure its constitutionality.
…but the Mail & Guardian‘s Nic Dawes has issued a cautionary tweet:
Great to see real movement on the secrecy bill. A way to go yet, but activism and parliamentary process working
Update 26 July 11: The New York Times draws together the News of the World scandal and the proposed Media Appeals Tribunal:
Whether the scandal afflicting News Corp. represents the beginning of the fall of the House of Murdoch or just another thrilling episode in the career of the Teflon tycoon, I can’t say. There is plenty enough spectacle without speculation.
Nor is this the place to celebrate a rival’s troubles. True, I did pull from my files and savor the indignant letters we received from News of the World’s top editors last year as we prepared to publish an investigation of the paper’s phone-hacking culture and Scotland Yard’s timidity — work that has been fully vindicated in recent weeks. But even if it is true, as online wags put it, that Murdoch’s troubles threaten to deplete the world supply of schadenfreude, I don’t plan to join the party.
There is one aspect of the scandal, though, that has not received the attention it deserves. It falls under the heading of collateral damage.
Update 28 July 11: Brendan Boyle reports that the ANC appears to be backsliding on certain concessions it’s made on the Secrecy Bill:
The ANC has laid its cards on the table in the debate on the secrecy bill.
The party has presented a draft definition of “national security” that appeared to reverse some of the concessions made in more than three years of haggling about the classification of state information.
The draft presented by ANC negotiator Luwellyn Landers reintroduced the prevention of “information peddling” and the protection of economic information as reasons to classify state information as secret.
Update 4 September 2011: the Protection of Information / Secrecy Bill appears to be going forward into law in a much-less-than-satisfactory manner:
Until the last minute, opposition parties tried to persuade the majority ANC MPs to reconsider the three contentious clauses dealing with the “unlawful” possession or disclosure of classified information.
The DA, ACDP and Inkatha Freedom Party all proposed that the ruling party add a clause to protect those who reveal classified information in the interests of the public.
But the ANC responded that the time for discussion had passed, and the clauses were put to the vote.
The eight ANC MPs, excluding Burgess, out-voted the opposition.
Update 6 September 11: …and the ad-hoc committee led by Cecil Burgess has sent the Secrecy Bill to Parliament:
An ad hoc committee of Parliament yesterday adopted the controversial Protection of Information Bill after nearly a year of deliberations.
Opposition parties immediately signalled a Constitutional Court challenge to have it declared unconstitutional, and a petition to President Jacob Zuma .
The bill adopted by the committee excluded a public interest defence clause as demanded by opposition parties and lobby groups. This would have allowed the disclosure of some classified information if it could be shown to be in the public interest.
Update 09 September 09: Some sunnier news: South African Raymond Louw has been honoured by the International Press Institute with an IPI World Press Freedom Award, alongside the late US journalist Daniel Pearl. Here is the official statement from the IPI:
South African editor and publisher Raymond Louw has long been a champion of press freedom and journalists’ rights. Louw was the editor and publisher of SOUTHERN AFRICA REPORT, a private circulation current affairs weekly until early 2011, when he sold the publication.
He started journalism on the “Mail” – where he was shot at while reporting on riots – and later worked on newspapers in Sussex, Cumbria, and London, England, for six years and on the Sunday Times in Johannesburg.
Between 1966 and 1977, he was editor of the noted anti-apartheid newspaper, the Rand Daily Mail. During this time he worked alongside Laurence Gandar, who was posthumously named an IPI World Press Freedom Hero in 2010. Under Louw’s editorship, the Mail became known for its pioneering investigative work on apartheid and other issues.
During the apartheid era, Louw headed the Media Defense Trust, set up to defend journalists against censorship.
In the run up to South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, while chairman of the Freedom of Expression Institute, he was appointed to the Independent Media Commission to ensure state broadcasting and state-financed publications were impartial.
Raymond Louw is the Chairperson of the South African Press Council, and was one of the founding members of the South African National Editors’ Forum, dedicated to promoting inclusivity and representing the concerns of the media. He is also an IPI Fellow and in 2010, was awarded the Lifetime Commitment to Press Freedom Award at the 2010 IPI World Congress in Vienna.
“Raymond Louw has been a friend of IPI, and of press freedom as a whole, for many decades,” said Bethel McKenzie. “His commitment to press freedom and his outspoken defence of journalists’ rights, have paved the way for many who followed in his footsteps to do their work without intimidation and harassment. We were proud to declare Raymond Louw an IPI Fellow in 1994, and we are proud now to name him a World Press Freedom Hero for his lifetime of work on press freedom.”
Raymond Louw told IPI yesterday: “I am overwhelmed at this singular honour bestowed on me by the International Press Institute.” “I am greatly humbled when I contemplate what this award means – that my peers have placed me alongside the formidable pantheon of indomitable men and women who have raised journalism through their courage and bravery, professionalism and dedication to the principle of the people’s right to know to a pinnacle of human endeavour. My fight for press freedom was in the way of the soldiering journalist.
“I wish to dedicate this award to the journalists of the Rand Daily Mail when I was editor. In their battle against apartheid and censorship in South Africa many were brutally harassed and a number were jailed. But their work had such telling impact that the government of John Vorster first tried to buy the paper clandestinely through a front man and turn it into a pro-government mouthpiece and when that failed spent R30-million of taxpayers’ money to start a competing pro-government newspaper in an attempt to kill off the Mail. The story of that illegal enterprise which resulted in Vorster’s political demise became known as Muldergate, named after Information Minister Connie Mulder who headed it.
“I see this award as providing immense encouragement to all journalists to continue to fight that battle in the spirit of the IPI and those Mail journalists.”
Tip of the hat to SA Pen for the Ray Louw link and pic.
Update 16 Sep: Avaaz.org has a petition going against the passing of the Secrecy Bill by Parliament:
In five days, MPs could pass an outrageous secrecy bill that undermines the constitution and South Africa’s democracy — helping the government keep wrongdoing from the people and enabling cover-ups of corruption and human rights abuses. But there are four people that could make or break this bill: the Chief Whips.
Despite top lawyers warning that the bill is unconstitutional, the majority of MPs are expected to vote it through. But it will be up to the Chief Whips to rally the MPs to vote for or against the bill. If we flood their inboxes with messages from across South Africa calling on them to respect the law and oppose the secrecy bill, they could think twice about pushing it through.
Let’s appeal to the Whips’ sense of democratic responsibility and call on them to protect hard-won constitutional rights and freedoms, and transparent government. Click now to send a message straight to their inboxes and urge them to say No to the Secrecy Bill, then share this with everyone — we will release the number of messages sent to the media on the eve of the vote.
Update 26 Sep 11:
PEN International has issued a statement on the Secrecy Bill:
Update 04 October 11:
Parliament has seemingly spawned its own mini-Secrecy Bill – a “Draft Policy on Media Relations Management” that’s set to cause cooler relations between MPs and journalists:
The protocol faxed to reporters yesterday, the “Draft Policy on Media Relations Management”, forbids reporters to visit the offices of parliamentary staff or MPs without invitation.
Sowetan editor Mpumelelo Mkhabela said knocking on MPs’ doors was a tradition in parliamentary reporting.
The protocol also requires reporters to respect the privacy of MPs and staff.
“Journalists should not approach party support staff or employees of parliament to seek information on parliamentary matters. All enquiries are to be made through the media relations office,” the document says.
Update 26 October 2011:
A new annual Media Freedom Lecture has been organised by the wRite Associates. Great move! And the first speaker is… Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane. Erm. Sorta like when US Republicans called their mooted pollution deregulation law the Clear Skies Act.
Chabane doubtless deserves a fair hearing for his/the government’s views – and he will be flanked by discussants from the media, including Pretoria News editor Zingisa Mkhuma – yet one can imagine a few other speakers who would better serve the profile of the inaugural lecture.
Here’s the press release:
MINISTER IN THE PRESIDENCY COLLINS CHABANE DELIVERS THE INAUGURAL MEDIA FREEDOM LECTURE & COLLOQUIA
The wRite associates and National Library of South Africa round off the month in which Press Freedom Day was celebrated by launching an annual Media Freedom Lecture & Colloquia on 31st October 2011 at the National Library of South Africa, 228 Proes Street, Tshwane.
Minister in the Presidency, Collins Chabane, will deliver the main Media Freedom Lecture, accompanied by co-discussants, Press Ombud Joe Thloloe, Pretoria News editor Zingisa Mkhuma, publisher and author Mothobi Mutloatse and playwright, poet and author Duma ka Ndlovu.
As part of the National Days Lecture and Colloquia series originated and managed by the wRite associates, the first of which was the Women’s March Lecture and Dialogue, inaugurated on 30th August 2011 with a keynote address by Ms Baleka Mbete, National Chairperson of the African National Congress, the aims of the Media Freedom Lecture and Colloquia are to give intellectual gravitas to these Days as well as to reflect on the road traveled so far, lessons learnt and chart prospects for the future. It is also to point out that there are far deeper and broader historical issues we need to explore in the media space, beyond the current and understandably sensitive debate regarding the media and related matters, within the very wonderful strides covered in our present day democracy and freedom.
More can and must still be done to really deepen and broaden our achievements and, indeed, how the gains we enjoy today can be further defended and advanced.
The other important aim of the Lecture and Colloquia is to celebrate the achievements of media workers and their contributions to our freedom.
The ultimate aim is to grow the project to become one of the most sought-after and celebrated events of the month in which Press Freedom Day is marked, on an annual basis.
South Africa’s liberation struggles – as led and contributed to by thinkers, writers, journalists and other media workers and organisations – date back centuries, as evidenced by stellar contributions by the early leaders such as Charlotte Maxeke, Sol Plaatje, Pixley ka Isaka Seme and John Dube, to name but a few.
For more information or further details, please call 011-791 3585 or email email@example.com
Update 19 November 11:
The Protection of Information Act / Secrecy Bill is apparently thundering toward its apotheosis as a law, as several sources report, and despite the efforts of one MP to filibuster it. Here’s Times LIVE:
The draft legislation has been revised several times .
The ANC and the opposition have deadlocked on the demand that provision for a public-interest defence be inserted into the bill.
On Wednesday, the bill was passed by the National Assembly after a fierce debate. It has now been sent to the National Council of Provinces for further deliberation.
- Complete article: Times LIVE
Meanwhile, this week’s Mail & Guardian has given us a taste of what our media landscape may look like in the future, should the PIB indeed rule our publications. A pre-emptive strike by presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj’s legal team forced the M&G to black out its front-page story. Here’s a picture of the story from editor Nic Dawes; and here’s the M&G on Maharaj’s move:
In a chilling forewarning of what may happen if the Protection of State Information Bill is adopted in its current form, the Mail & Guardian has been compelled to suppress a report about presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj following a threat of criminal prosecution under the National Prosecuting Authority Act.
The Act makes it an offence to disclose evidence gathered in camera by a section 28 inquiry — providing for a maximum penalty of 15 years in jail.
After sending questions to Maharaj on Wednesday this week, the M&G received a letter on Thursday from Maharaj’s lawyers warning of a potential criminal prosecution if we published the story.
Update 21 Nov 11:
Mondli Makhanya, Group Editor-in-Chief at Avusa Media – which includes the Sunday Times – has sent out this letter lamenting what will likely be the passage of the Protection of Information Act / Secrecy Bill in Parliament on Tuesday, and urging continued vigilance on the free-speech front:
The National Assembly is voting on the Protection of State Information Bill tomorrow (Tuesday) during a plenary sitting that starts at 2pm.
It is a sad day for South Africa.
The bill has come a long way since it was re-introduced in Parliament in August last year. Many organisation including the South African National Editors Forum, civil society bodies and social movements, trade unions, religious formations, academics and opposition MPs have managed to score very significant amendments while it was being processed by the ad hoc committee, and many draconian and unconstitutional elements have been chipped away.
It does however remain a terrible law and the fight against it must be intensified.
After the vote the bill will be referred to the National Council of Provinces, which has the power to run its own consultation process and make amendments – so it is important that pressure is applied and kept up.
It is important that South Africans make a strong statement against the Bill tomorrow. It is even more critical for us in the media industry to do so.
You are therefore urged to wear black tomorrow to send a strong message to the MPs who will be voting on the Bill in parliament that South Africa rejects any attempt to turn our democracy into a secretive society.
Update 22 Nov: Despite the massive pressure that accompanied the Black Tuesday protests today, Parliament’s main house passed the Protection of State Information / Secrecy Bill, by a vote of 229 to 107. It was, indeed, a black day.
Before the bill becomes law, it needs to be passed by Parliament’s second house, the National Council of Provinces, and thereafter needs President Zuma’s signature. After that, it will most certainly be challenged in the Constitutional Court, probably on several fronts.
Here’s Times LIVE with the grim news:
The bill was adopted by majority vote after a division was called by the opposition, and a Democratic Alliance motion to delay the vote failed.
All opposition parties present in the House voted against the measure, while hundreds of black-clad activists protested against it outside the gates of parliament and elsewhere in South Africa.
Update 01 Dec 11:
In addition to the New York Times op-ed that Nic Dawes, Judith February and Zackie Achmat have written – as so ably reported by the Books LIVE team – the Right2Know campaign has adopted a seven-point plan for South Africans to rally against the Secrecy Bill:
They told reporters the resistance campaign would tackle the legislation on seven fronts:
- Educating the public about the bill and the problems it posed for democracy;
- Public awareness;
- A march of those opposed to the bill to hand their grievances to President Jacob Zuma;
- A convention;
- A possible petition against the bill, and
- Co-operation and sharing information and resources on legal recourse.
Mail & Guardian editor Nic Dawes said the bill was an affront to democracy and the public.
Update 06 Dec: The DA has launched an “e-campaign” against the Secrecy Bill:
“[On Tuesday] we will be signing a generic letter to the president that all South Africans can download from the DA’s website, sign, and e-mail to the president’s office.
“We will also be signing a petition that we will send to the president if the bill is passed through the National Council of Provinces without the necessary amendments, asking him not to sign the bill into law.”
South Africans could also help by registering their concerns with the Presidential Hotline on 17737.
Update 15 Dec: It appears that the ANC is investigating all 34 MPs who missed the “3 line whip” vote on the Secrecy Bill:
A source said this week that findings by an internal caucus investigation had already been forwarded to the party’s national disciplinary committee in Luthuli House, which would decide whether to charge the MPs or not.
The source said the party was obliged to investigate all absentees and, as a result, more than 30 MPs were now under investigation.
“There was a three-line whip, which means it was compulsory for everyone to be there. So whoever wasn’t there will have to give reasons as to why they were not there. They had defied an order.”
Update 24 Jan 2012: Now the IFP is getting in on the act:
The IFP has called for the creation of a “super body” to regulate the press in South Africa.
There were shortcomings in the current system of self-regulation and the current press ombudsman needed to be transformed into a “super body”, IFP deputy national spokesman Joshua Mazibuko said on Monday.
He was addressing a Press Freedom Commission hearing in Durban on the regulation of the print media, headed by retired judge president Pius Langa.
Update 27 March 2012: The Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, has urged Parliament to rethink several aspects of the bill, saying that in its current form it would hamper her work:
Public Protector Thuli Madonsela has pleaded with MPs to rethink key aspects of the protection of state information bill, saying it would “severely” affect her work.
Madonsela told them on Wednesday that the bill, as it stood, would shrink her powers and bedevil investigations into state wrongdoing.
- Keep reading: News24
Update 07 June 2012: Coetzee joins Gordimer in protesting against the Secrecy Bill:
Among those to attack the proposed legislation is JM Coetzee, the Nobel laureate and double Booker prize winner, making a rare public intervention.
“The legislation is transparently intended to make life difficult for pesky investigative journalists, and generally to save incompetent or corrupt bureaucrats from being embarrassed,” Coetzee, born in Cape Town but now resident in Australia, said in an email. “Its sponsors have very likely been emboldened by the push that has taken place all over the western world since 2001 to erect a wall of secrecy around the more dubious actions of the state, and to make it a crime to breach that wall.”
- Complete article: Guardian
Update 16 June: Following a UN review of human rights in South Africa – sparked by an SA PEN submission – a number of countries have lodged their concerns about the Secrecy Bill:
South Africa’s human rights record was scrutinised by a working group of the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) in Geneva recently. A draft report of the meeting shows that Spain “asked about measures adopted to ensure that the future protection of state information does not curtail freedom of the press and right to information on possible inappropriate action by public officials”.
Sweden “noted that the protection of state information bill might lead to restrictions on media freedom”.
Germany called on South Africa to “safeguard the freedom of the press, through the abrogation of the protection of information bill”.
- Complete article: Guardian
Hat tip to Margie Orford for the link.
Update 27 Nov: Egad, the ANC has adopted the latest version of the Secrecy Bill, after opposition parties walked out:
The ANC has adopted the final draft of the Protection of State Information Bill in the absence of opposition parties, who walked out.
The eight ruling party MPs on the ad hoc committee handling the draft official secrets law voted unanimously to adopt a report to the National Council of Provinces outlining changes made to it in the past year.
The report also contains the objecting views of other political parties, but the Democratic Alliance and the Congress of the People refused to vote on the document because it was handed out only after the meeting began.
Update 06 Nov 12: The Right2Know campaign has been “voted the Johannesburg Press Club’s 2012 newsmaker of the year”, which, we’re delighted to note, was reported by the SABC, among others:
“It’s a victory for people’s power,” Right2Know (R2K) Gauteng spokesperson Jayshree Pather said today, accepting the award at Wits Business School, in Johannesburg.
“What lies ahead is, I think, many other struggles and as R2K we’re committed to… eternal vigilance,” she said.
Johannesburg Press Club chairperson Mixael de Kock said the R2K coalition, comprising more than 400 organisations, with 30 000 members, had “relentlessly pursued the public’s right to understand the full scope of the Protection of State Information Bill… and how it would impact the media and every citizen of this country.
Update 24 April 13: A version of the Protection of Information / Secrecy Bill is about to be passed in Parliament. According to Dene Smuts, who spoke on the Talk Radio 702 this morning, the new draft ticks all the DA’s boxes regarding safeguards for whistleblowers and journalists; but according to reports the opposition is still going to vote against it, and the Right 2 Know campaign remains appalled:
Amendments to the bill were referred to the National Assembly by the National Council of Provinces last year.
However, the DA, ACDP and COPE put it on record that, though they approved the amendments, they objected to the bill as a whole and would vote against it.
Opposition parties have failed to sway the ANC into reconsidering the constitutionality of some clauses, particularly those pertaining to national competency over provincial archives.
Yesterday, DA MP Dene Smuts said it would get legal opinion with a view to petitioning Zuma to refer the bill to the Constitutional Court.~~~
On Thursday 25 April – the eve of Freedom Day – the National Assembly will vote to pass the Protection of State Information Bill (the Secrecy Bill). Rather than responding to calls to replace the apartheid-era 1982 Protection of Information Act with a just and limited classification law, the National Assembly will adopt a law that is in many respects as draconian as its predecessor and goes some way to resurrect the securocrat ghosts of the apartheid past.
The Right2Know Campaign calls on MPs to remember the spirit of 27 April 1994 when we elected our first democratic government and collectively committed ourselves to open, transparent, and participatory government.
Members of the National Assembly must not betray our democracy. We call on MPs to vote with their conscience and reject the Secrecy Bill.
The Secrecy Bill only has narrow protection for whistleblowers and public advocates (not a full Public Interest Defence) that excludes a range of matters in the public interest like shady tendering practices or improper appointments within key state agencies. This half-measure fails to acknowledge the urgent need to address South Africa’s whistleblower crisis — as well as the global abuse of national security laws to protect state interests against the scrutiny of citizens.
Update 25 April 2013 no. 1: ANC MP Ben Turok, who previously declined to support the Protection of Information / Secrecy Bill, has issued a press release saying he’ll now vote for it:
On Thursday 25 th April 2013, the national Assembly will be called upon to vote on the Protection of State Information Bill. I have had several enquiries on whether I shall once again decline to vote in support of the Bill. In the light of the enormous support I received for my previous stance, I find it necessary to indicate my present position.
I intend to vote for adoption for the following reasons.
1. My previous action was meant as a protest against what I considered an obnoxious Bill. A protest is just that, it is not more than that. An individual action has limited effect.
2. Because of the tortuous passage of the Bill through the NCOP, I have been unable to track all the changes. This is no excuse, as I have a responsibility to know what I vote for, but there are limits to how much ground one can cover.
3. I therefore have to some extent make a judgement on the basis of press reports and discussions with colleagues. I have been briefed by colleagues on the changes and am assured that they are qualitative, not superficial.
4. Nevertheless, I am not wholly satisfied but understand that the Bill will certainly land up in the Constitutional Court.
5. It is clear that the Parliamentary process has run its full course and that the relevant committees are exhausted.
6. I therefore feel it is time for others to take up the debate, and rely on the good judgement of our top lawyers to decide.
Prof Ben Turok M P
(Via press release)
Update 25 April 2013 no. 2: And it’s been passed:
Parliament this afternoon voted in favour of the Protection of State Information Bill. To be forwarded to the President for assention.#POSIB
— CFCR (@theCFCR) April 25, 2013
In consequence of the POIB / Secrecy Bill’s being passed, this post will now close for updates. We’ll start a new one documenting the civil society fightback shortly.
Image courtesy JKT Hand Tools