They do not talk about this in public. They talk about press freedom and perceived potential external threats to it from government, the ruling party and not threats from commercial interests.
Therefore, the debate about “who pays for the news” must also be opened, in a constructive manner. Are editors under pressure to sell their papers at whatever cost, including at times relying on unchecked and unverified smears in order to boost sales?
What protection does an ordinary citizen who cannot afford lawyers have when their rights have been violated? How can they compete with powerful business interests who control the media either through ownership or advertising spend?
The ANC cannot and will not pose any threat to the media. It is not in its interests to do so. Not when it is working so hard to consolidate and protect this hard-won democracy and freedom. We would never do anything to jeopardise the gains we have made.
But we have a responsibility to democratise every aspect of South African society. It is our historical duty.
The ANC has for many decades led struggles to liberate the masses of our people, both black and white, from the repressive system of apartheid. As early as the 1950’s, the ANC defined the kind of South Africa it wants.
This culminated in the adoption of the Freedom Charter, which forms the basis of our work and programme of action since 1994.
It was in this context that the African National Congress adopted the MAT resolution at its 52nd National Conference in 2007.
It is proper to publish the full resolution:
“ON MEDIA FREEDOM 125.
The ANC must promote the school of thought which articulates media freedom within the context of the South African Constitution, in terms of which the notion that the right to freedom of expression should not be elevated above other equally important rights such as
the right to privacy and more important rights and values such as human dignity.
ON THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A MEDIA APPEALS TRIBUNAL (MAT) 126. Conference adopts the recommendation of the Policy conference that the establishment of a MAT be investigated. It accordingly endorses that such investigation be directed at examining the principle of a MAT and the associated modalities for implementation. Conference notes that the creation of a MAT would strengthen, complement and support the current self-regulatory institutions (Press Ombudsman/Press Council) in the public interest.
127. This discourse on the need for a MAT should be located within a proper context. It has to be understood as an initiative to strengthen the human rights culture embodied in the principles of our constitution (Constitution Act of 1996) and an effort to guarantee the equal enjoyment of human rights by all citizens.
128. It particularly relates to the balancing of human rights in line with section 36 of the Constitution of the Republic. This especially relates to the need to balance the right to freedom of expression, freedom of the media, with the right to equality, to privacy and human dignity for all.
129. The investigation should consider the desirability that such a MAT be a statutory institution, established through an open, public and transparent process, and be made accountable to Parliament. The investigation should further consider the mandate of the Tribunal and its powers to adjudicate over matters or complaints expressed by citizens against print media, in terms of decisions and rulings made by the existing self-regulatory institutions, in the same way as it happens in the case of broadcasting through the Complaints and Compliance Committee of ICASA.
130. The investigation should further consider remedial measures which will safeguard and promote the human rights of all South Africans.
131. The Media and other stakeholders, including civil society, shall be consulted to ensure that the process is open, transparent and public. Parliament will be charged with this mandate
to establish this MAT, in order to guarantee the principles of independence, transparency, accountability and fairness.
It is evident from the resolution, that the proposed establishment of the MAT, even at the time that the ANC discussed it and adopted it, was never and will never be used to settle scores or to undermine the Constitution of the Republic.
The ANC acknowledges the need for the work of the MAT to be transparent and fair, and this can be effectively done through people’s institutions such as Parliament which has public representatives. Our Parliamentarians come from different political parties, and importantly the public is also allowed through due processes to participate in the work of government.
The allegation that the ANC therefore through the establishment of the MAT, wants to control the media is false and misleading.
The MAT is meant to protect South Africans, rich or poor, black or white, rural or urban. The ANC, as the leader in South African society, cannot fail in its duty to defend our Constitution and to protect and defend the rights of citizens.
The debate has nothing to do with the experiences of certain individuals with the media. This is not personal; it is aimed at advancing the freedoms that are enshrined in our Constitution. It is aimed at ensuring that those who do not have money to go to lawyers can still obtain protection, as they do from the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa.
The broadcast media is regulated to protect the public as it is such a powerful institution. The print media, like other institutions, cannot be viewed to be above the Constitution.
All South Africans are equal before the law, and they are equal before the Constitution of the Republic. We must remember also that no right is absolute in terms of our Bill of Rights. Therefore our interpretation of our individual rights must always be understood in the context of the rights of other South Africans.
Our contention is that the ANC does not, and will never pose any threat to media freedom. The media must seriously conduct introspection and open a constructive debate about the role of this institution in a post-apartheid South Africa. Is the media a mirror of South African society? Is it in touch with what the majority of South Africans feel and think? Does this institution actually know and understand South Africans? Why was it surprised by the explosion of national pride during the Soccer World Cup tournament? Why did South Africans decide to rise above the daily diet of negativity and defeatism that they are fed daily in the media?
What is the impact of ownership on content and staffing? What is the ideological outlook of the media? Is there an alienation with the post-apartheid democratic order and thinking? Are we on the same wavelength regarding where South Africa should go politically, socially and economically? Does the media understand this well enough to articulate it to South Africans, to enable to accurately judge government action and performance?
Let me reiterate that the ANC will never do anything that undermines the spirit of the Constitution of the Republic, and which erodes the dignity and rights of other people, regardless of their standing in society.
Let us have an open debate about the role of the media and its alignment with the Constitution of the Republic and human rights culture. Let us openly debate the ownership, content and diversity issues. Let there be no holy cows. The media should allow the ANC and the public the right to freedom of expression.
We will use our right to express what we think. And we should not be silenced by claims of “threats to press freedom.”
Let the real debate begin. Let there be no holy cows!
ANC National Spokesperson
African National Congress