South African Jewish Board Responds To Debate On Media Tribunal

JOHANNESBURG -The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) has joined the debate on media reforms in the country, and said it has serious reservations about the proposed introduction of new regulatory measures for the South African media.

South African Jewish Times

An Associate Director of SA Jewish Board of Deputies said, “The proposed Media Tribunal clearly has the potential to become a vehicle through which State interference in the ability of the media to operate freely and without fear of reprisals to become entrenched in our society. This in turn would seriously undermine the basic democratic freedoms on which South Africa’s future well-being inextricably depends”.

“Freedom of the media is one of the fundamental pillars on which any democratic society must rest. State interference in what the media can and cannot report is irreconcilable with democratic practice. Media censorship was an intrinsic feature of the apartheid regime, and in view of this history, South Africans need to be especially aware of the dangers of infringing on media independence.”

Debate is raging all over South Africa and questions have arisen over the necessity of the MAT when we have the Press Ombudsman and the Press Council. Journalists and some media commentators believe that the MAT is veiled attempt by the ANC to censor the media and that it would undermine the constitutionally guaranteed media freedoms. Fears have been expressed that the existence of the tribunal could also result in self censorship for fear of the punitive action that could be taken against journalists and the media. Questions have also arisen over whether self regulation is still not a better system which does not encroach on media than statutory regulation through an appeals tribunal.

The Director said, “It is accepted that media freedom is not an absolute right, but one that should be exercised in a fair and responsible manner. There is therefore a definite need for effective regularity bodies to be in place in order to hold the media accountable where necessary. However, it is vital that such bodies (as is the case with the judiciary) be completely independent entities, whose deliberations and decisions will not be unduly influenced by external political or ideological considerations.”

“The SAJBD is concerned about the proposed measures precisely because they anticipate the creation of a regularity body that is not independent but that is instead beholden to the government of the day. As such, it would be a serious restriction on the Constitutional right to freedom of expression and a retrograde step for ensuring Government’s accountability and transparency.”

Meanwhile The Faculty of Humanities at Wits University and the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism (IAJ) is inviting the media and the public to a debate on the ANC’s proposed Media Appeals Tribunal (MAT).

A panel featuring Jackson Mthembu (ANC spokesperson and Chairman of the ANC National Executive Committee sub-committee on Communications), Lumko Mtimde (CEO of the Media Development and Diversity Agency), Jeremy Cronin (SACP Deputy General Secretary), Thabo Leshilo (Chairperson SANEF Media Freedom Committee), Joe Thloloe (Press Ombudsman) and Prof. Anton Harber (Head of Wits Journalism) will debate burning issues pertaining to the MAT and media. The debate takes place on Monday, 23 August 2010 at 18:00 for 18:30 in the Great Hall, East Campus, Wits University.

“This is a very important debate for South African society today given the critical role that the media plays in sustaining and deepening democracy. The best form of regulation should enable this role and enhance media credibility and accountability,” says Prof. Kupe, Dean of Humanities.

Some have also raised the questions as to whether the Press Ombudsman is independent from powerful interests including editors and media owners who fund the Press Council. Equally questions have been raised as to whether the MAT would be independent from powerful interests including the government that want to censor the media to avoid embarrassing exposures of wrongdoing. The debate will also focus on whether the self regulatory system and the Press Ombudsman are effective.