A proposed South African tribunal to oversee the print media, derided by critics as muzzling the press, will enhance accountability and improve reporting, said a senior ruling party official.
The Media Appeals Tribunal is designed to investigate complaints and punish irresponsible reporting, the African National Congress says, and will come before Africa’s oldest political party at its policy making conference in September.
“Are we vindictive? Definitely no, but we are saying the freedom that all of us enjoy that emanates from our constitution should be enjoyed by all of us,” the ANC’s national spokesman Jackson Mthembu told journalists and editors.
“There shouldn’t be one group of people called the media who can rubbish you, who can defame you and you have no recourse.”
Leading media groups have denounced the ANC’s plans, saying the tribunal is an attempt to crush investigative reporters who regularly expose corruption and hold the government accountable in a country dominated by the ANC’s one-party rule. The influential South African National Editors’ Forum has said the tribunal undermines media freedoms granted in the post-apartheid constitution, Reuters reports.
Mthembu said the tribunal is not aimed at publications that report unfavourably on the ANC.
“There is no targeting of newspapers, we will still use the same (journalistic) codes, if you go against those codes, then we should impose some punitive measures,” he said.
Separately, South Africa’s parliament is considering an information bill ANC lawmakers said is designed to protect state secrets, but media groups said could hinder investigations. If passed, the bill would also restrict access to information from regulators and state-owned enterprises, which critics say could cut investors off from information affecting equity, treasury and foreign exchange markets.
“The FXI does not believe that the proposed legislation currently being considered presents appropriate solutions to the problems noted here. Nor is a state-controlled media appeals tribunal the answer,” a Freedom of Expression Institute statement said.
PIC: ANC President, Jacob Zuma.