New media rules planned by the South African government are reminiscent of draconian apartheid-era press laws and could stunt democracy in the country, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.
The New York-based media freedom group said in a letter to President Jacob Zuma, posted on the CPJ website (www.cpj.org), that the proposed laws would severely curtail the independent media. South Africa’s parliament is currently considering an information bill that ruling African National Congress MPs say will protect state secrets, but media groups said could prevent investigative reporting and curtail reports on corruption, Reuters reports.
“The Protection of Information Bill currently before parliament is meant to replace an apartheid-era law dating from 1982,” the CPJ said. Under apartheid, journalists were prevented from writing about security forces’ actions and often arrested and jailed for being in black townships where anti-apartheid riots were the order of the day.
“Yet the broad language and far-reaching provisions of the legislative proposal… is reminiscent of apartheid-era regulations since it would virtually shield the government from the scrutiny of the independent press and criminalise activities essential to investigative journalism, a vital public service”.
In another media measure, the ANC will discuss the creation of a Media Appeals Tribunal at a policy review conference next month. The tribunal has been slammed by South African media groups, editors and press freedom groups in the country.
The ANC said the tribunal was aimed at investigating complaints and punishing irresponsible reporting.
But media organisations said the tribunal was a bid to crush investigative reporters who regularly expose corruption and hold the government accountable in a country where the ANC has a near two-thirds majority in parliament.
The CPJ said in its letter to Zuma that the tribunal could be construed as a political censorship.
“As the leader of the ANC, we call on you to urge the ANC General Council to abandon this proposal as government-sponsored media regulatory agencies across Africa have been used time and time again as instruments of political censorship,” the CPJ said.
The ANC said last week the tribunal would enhance accountability and improve reporting, denying it was an attempt to muzzle the press.