This blog follows the debate surrounding the state of media freedom in South Africa. It is compiled and written by Julie Reid, an academic and media analyst from the Department of Communication Science at the University of South Africa.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The SA Press Council a brave voice for media freedom

by Julie Reid

A year ago the South African Press Council began a process of review, in order to re-examine its constitution, complaints procedure and the press code. Part of this process included inviting written submissions from anyone with suggestions on how to improve the press self-regulatory body, as well as public hearings held in five different cities across the country, where people could discuss suggested revisions to the press council and its policies. In total, the Press Council received 58 submissions, and on 18 August 2011 released its 100 page review at Constitution Hill, outlining the changes that had been accepted by the council. The review took place, partly due to massive pressure from the ANC, which has, since its 2007 Polokwane resolution, been lobbying for statutory regulation of the press in the form of a vaguely described Media Appeals Tribunal.

When the review process began, Press Ombudsman Joe Thloloe emphatically stated that the outcome of the review process would not be steered towards appeasing the demands of the ANC, but be guided to improving journalism and the system of self-regulation in South Africa. A few of the points included in the review report are significant, because they show that in terms of not yielding to demands of the ruling party at least, Thloloe kept his word.

During the Press Council hearings in February and March 2011, heated debates consistently arose around two issues included in the current press code: the waiver, and the lack of sanctions. Briefly, the latter meant that various parties were concerned that the Press Council does not fine journalists, editors or publications which are found to have contravened the press code. Critics, most notably the ANC, took this as a cue to call the Press Council a ‘toothless’ mechanism of self-regulation and insisted that harsher measures be meted out on an offending publication than simply publishing a suitably sized and prominent apology. The second major issue, was the inclusion of the waiver in the Press Council’s complaints procedure. Persons lodging a complaint with the Press Council because they feel that they have been unfairly represented in the press must sign a waiver, which really means that should such a person be dissatisfied with the outcome of the Press Council’s ruling on the matter, they cannot thereafter take the matter to the courts. In other words, if you are unhappy with the ruling of the Ombudsman, you cannot sue the newspaper that slandered your name. Of course, this became a bone of contention during the hearings.

At the release of the report, the Press Council announced, first, that it had rejected the notion of fining newspapers, saying that “the continued use of peer pressure and the publication of findings were the best form of leverage”. Second to that, on flipping through the copy of the report, I quickly found it. The waiver. Still there. But arguments for and against the fining of journalists and the inclusion of a waiver aside, the Press Council’s refusal to budge on either of these two points does reveal one crucial thing: the South African Press Council has not bowed to political pressure from the ANC. The Press Council is a tiny institution, so it is a bit of a David and Goliath affair. But Thloloe reiterated at the release of the report, that the Press Council is not willing to pressurise journalists, simply because it is under pressure from government.

Predictably the ANC has slammed the report, saying that the Press Council’s plans are too ‘tame’. ANC spokesperson, Jackson Mthembu, complained that the report does not go far enough and that an appeals panel (one assumes he means a media appeals tribunal) should be established with the power to suspend, fine or fire errand journalists. Let us remember however, that this is coming from the same ANC party who did not make any submissions to the Press Council during its review process, so one has to question how seriously the ANC regards the process at all.

I have to admit that I am not thrilled with the content of the review report myself. For one thing, the Press Council rejected the suggestion that I made in my own submission, of allowing for third party complaints, which would mean that any citizen could complain about anything which is published in the press. The current press complaints procedure only allows for complaints to be lodged by persons who are directly affected by something that has been published in print. I find this silly, because in South Africa, if I hear something on radio or see something on television which offends me, I can quite easily lodge a complaint with the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. But if I were to see, say, two uniformed police officers engaging in an explicit sex act on the front page of a newspaper, and I found this to be offensive, I cannot lodge a complaint about it with the Press Council. Why? Because I am not the person in the picture having the sex. Parents who don’t want their young children to be exposed to pornography on television during prime time are the same parents who don’t want their kids to see this stuff on newsstands.

But the process of review is not over. The review report still has to be considered by the industry bodies making up the press council, and the newly established Press Freedom Commission will conduct its own independent review of press self-regulation in South Africa, with another round of public hearings. So I will get another chance, and I will be there, beating the same ‘third party complaints’ drum. In its defence, the Press Council, during its process of review, opened itself up for, and received, a barrage of intense criticism. And as far as appearances go, it did so with humility. You have to ask, how many of South Africa’s institutions, political or otherwise, would be willing to do that? One also has to remember that this is an institution which is seriously under resourced and a mere five years old. So imperfections with its procedures and structures are to be expected.

At the release of the review report event, the room was packed with journalists, academics and members of civil society, some of whom had made submissions to the Press Council. As proceedings were coming to a close, Press Ombudsman Joe Thloloe thanked his colleagues, and spoke of the significance of holding the release of the report event at Constitution Hill. “It was after the riots of 1976, and I was a young boy of seventeen, when I was brought here, to this place and locked up. For months. It was during my time here that I was inspired to become a journalist”, said Thloloe. He reminded us that we were sitting in the same place (then Johannesburg central prison) where DRUM journalist Henry Nxumalo had been detained, after which he published an exposé on the mistreatment of black inmates under apartheid, which was followed by the institution of the Prisons Act. This piece of legislation made it impossible for journalists to publish anything about the going’s on inside South African prisons. Although Thloloe didn’t utter the connection, it does not require a far stretch of association to see the correlation between that act, and the Protection of Information Bill, currently being discussed in parliament, which would close down the possibility for investigative journalists to pursue information pertaining to any of the state security services. Thloloe wiped away some tears as he received a standing ovation.

Though we may find it uncomfortable to believe, we are facing times where journalists are being continuously intimidated, the police are becoming increasingly militarised and violent, and the ruling party is making concerted efforts to inhibit free access to information thereby damaging any hope of a governance of transparency and accountability. And this is apart from the threat of a Media Appeals Tribunal. If we are to preserve freedom of expression in this country, then the small voices of reason, like those emanating from the Press Council, are perhaps one of the best defences that we have.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Free African Media @ Daily Maverick

One of the heartening things that we have seen in the media industry over the past few months, is the way in which media professionals, in the face of a threatening atmosphere with regard to press freedom, have rallied together around initiatives of different sorts that for the most part express a concern with media freedom, and the direction of the social sphere in general. Some of these initiatives include the very vocal Right 2 Know campaign, and LeadSA.

The Daily Maverick this week launched Free African Media, which seems to aim to get African media people the continent over, talking about the state of media freedom in their respective countries. It makes for exciting reading, but also emphasises how real media freedom seems to be such a scarcity on this beautiful continent of ours.

Here's my contribution to Free African Media:

Monday, January 24, 2011

The ANC’s media-schizophrenia and the danger of self-censorship

I have a terrible confession to make, and until now, I have not been able to do it. I am, after all, supposed to be an ‘expert’ in media matters and the like. Part of my job is to attend debates, conferences and colloquiums and to sound/look clever when I do so. Journalists call me for an ‘expert’ opinion, and when they do, they expect me to have one. Apart from that, I am tasked with informing my university undergraduates with a clear understanding of the crazy media industry that I am preparing them to enter. But here it is: I do not really understand what the ANC is trying to do to the media. I find the entire issue quite unfathomable.

When you are an academic, finding that you don’t quite understand something that you should, is unnerving. So after doing some serious introspection I discovered, to my relief, that my non-understanding of the matter does not necessarily lie with me. The problem may be that the ANC, as an organisation, seems to be suffering from a case of schizophrenia when it comes to what it wants to do to, or with, the South Africa media in general, and the press in particular. The ANC’s statements and responses in the past few months, with regard to the proposed media appeals tribunal, have been at best in-consistent and at worst, simply confusing. Let me show you what I mean.

Dr Pallo Jordan for example, at various appearances and discussions, emphatically supported the idea of a media tribunal. I listened to Dr Jordan tell an audience of concerned academics that we should stop being “hysterical” in our protestations to the media tribunal and should rather engage in “sober discussions”. (Never having equated having a healthy concern for the state of my country’s democracy with drunkardness or hysteria, I took slight exception to this). Last year Jordan and Times journalist Justice Malala engaged in a rather ugly war of words over the media tribunal throughout which Jordan again supported the motion. But on 23 November 2010 news reports stated that Jordan had done a literal one-eighty on the issue, saying at an ANC gathering that the ANC is trying to create a “lose-lose situation” for itself, and with regard to a media tribunal, “Those who want to rubbish us will have every right to do so” (News24). So, the assumption is that he changed his mind. Well, alright, he is entitled to do that. But how do we explain the other inconsistencies emanating from the ANC with regard to the media?

I am thinking about Kgalema Motlanthe’s meeting with Sanef (South African Editors Forum) in October 2010, where he assured us that if the media would be willing to re-evaluate its self-regulation processes and the role of the Press Ombudsman, then the ANC would drop its insistence of a media appeals tribunal. We all breathed a sigh of relief. Media academic and activist, Prof Guy Berger optimistically told me at this point that this was evidence that the ANC was beginning to soften its position on the media appeals tribunal, and that the engaging discussions between the media, academics, civil society and the ANC were starting to pay off. But a week later, President Zuma told a crowd of supporters in Stellenbosch that the ANC would continue its pursuit of a media tribunal. (This was right after Julius Malema called Helen Zille a cockroach at the same meeting). So, were Zuma and Motlanthe just not speaking to one another that week? Did Zuma not understand the outcome of the discussions between Motlanthe and Sanef? Or, and this is most scary, did Zuma simply choose to ignore the outcome of that meeting?

There have been several inconsistencies emanating from the ANC about the media tribunal: it is clear that for all its discussions and conference resolutions, the ANC does not have a water-tight or firm position on the media tribunal, and that various members of the ruling party feel very differently about the matter. Just this week we have seen these disparities reveal themselves in parliament, when the five shortlisted candidates for the SABC board where interviewed by the parliamentary portfolio committee on communications. One of the candidates was Lumko Mtimde, CEO of the Media Development and Diversity Agency and member of the ANC: Mtimde clearly outlined his support for a media appeals tribunal throughout last year, and in his interview continued this support. However, another ANC candidate for the SABC board, John Danana, stated in his interview that the proposed media tribunal was ill-conceived, “Stalinist” and that the idea of the tribunal was due to die a natural death.

Then there is Jackson Mthembu, the ANC spokesperson and head of communications, and one of the media tribunal’s staunchest supporters. He turned me down for a debate that I organised in October last year about these media issues, stating that the ANC would not be able to participate in debates surrounding the media appeals tribunal until the matter had made its way through parliament. I assumed at the time that this meant that the ANC, as well as Mr Mthembu, would remain quiet on the matter until the parliamentary committee responsible for the discussion of a media tribunal had done its work. However, three months later this is obviously not the case. Jackson Mthembu has indeed had quite a bit to say about a tribunal, and his tone has often been quite threatening and aggressive, suggesting on occasion that a media tribunal would allow for the imprisonment of journalists who “don’t contribute to the South Africa we want” (Mail & Guardian). On 14 January 2011, Mthembu announced, to my fleeting delight, that the ANC would temporarily back down on its efforts to establish a media tribunal, again suggesting that the ANC had softened its position. I then remembered that we have heard this before (from Motlanthe), but on that occasion it proved to be a somewhat empty statement. What concerns me most now, however, is not the ANC’s confusing inconsistency with regard to its position on a media appeals tribunal, but rather the conditions which Mthembu (and previously Motlanthe) offer, which would supposedly prevent the ANC’s continued pursuit of a media tribunal.

Mthembu states that the ANC will allow the media time to “reform” itself, before continuing (or discontinuing?) its pursuit of a media appeals tribunal. Effectively, the parliamentary process for the discussion of a media tribunal has been put on hold, until the Press Council has received, reviewed and adopted new proposals for self-regulatory practice. (A number of public hearings are being held around the country to discuss such proposals, after which new proposals must be approved by constituent members, including Sanef and Print Media South Africa). Worryingly, none of this effort will provide any guarantee that the ANC will drop its pursuit of the media appeals tribunal in future: “We will give you the space to transform yourself and then see where it takes us”, said Mthembu (Mail & Guardian).  This seems to be quite an unfair deal. The Press Council is effectively strong-armed into what will probably be a year long process of review, discussions and reform (all involving a great deal of work) and the ANC, for its part, may pick up on the issue of a media tribunal afterward anyway, having not promised to drop the matter entirely, but only on condition of satisfactory press self-regulatory reform. (And has it occurred to anyone that no matter how the Press Council reforms self-regulatory processes, without a clear and consistent idea of the ANC’s position on the press, the ANC will have a broad space to express discontent with the newly adopted processes once the Press Council has completed its review?). So in other words, the Press Council has by default committed to reform, while the ANC has committed to nothing. That is not a softened position. That is just good tactics.

It seems then, that in 2011 the spotlight for discussions will be on the Press Council, as it prepares to ‘improve’ press self-regulation processes. Generally speaking, this is not necessarily a bad thing, and certainly the forthcoming discussions may reveal aspects of self-regulation which require some critical attention. But the atmosphere in which these discussions are due to take place are far less than ideal, because they operate under the ultimatum from the ruling party: reform, or else! It is my sincere hope that the Press Council will in coming months withstand this political pressure, and not adopt reforms simply because they may appease the ANC in order to avoid the threatening prospect of a media appeals tribunal. But we do face the frightening scenario that the ANC (despite its apparent inconsistency on the matter) may have cleverly manoeuvred the press into performing the only thing that is more damaging to democracy than governmental censorship, and that is self-censorship. Prof Pieter Fourie from Unisa has already stated that this scenario is almost imminent in South Africa now, and describes the threat of the media appeals tribunal as a metaphorical sword, dangled precariously over the media by the ruling party. 

I do not want to sound too dramatic, but we must also remember that the Press Council’s discussions are due to take place in an increasing climate of intimidation of South African journalists. Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi Wa Afrika’s August 2010 arrest is simply one example. Shortly after that debacle two Daily Dispatch journalists were reportedly threatened by police in connection with an anonymous letter threatening the safety of a cabinet minister, which seemed to be prompted by a public meeting, reported on by the two journalists. The Sunday Independent’s October 2010 exposé of nepotism, corruption and fraud in the crime intelligence unit lead to the police seeking and obtaining a Johannesburg High Court order preventing the newspaper from publishing further revelations. In December we heard that this was followed by journalist Gcwalisile Khanyile’s phone being bugged by the police, and she became aware that she was being followed. In December two journalists, Penwell Dlamini and Antonio Muchave, were arrested in Johannesburg for taking pictures of Hillbrow police evicting nine families from Regal Court flats. And Zuma keeps suing Zapiro.

Again, the atmosphere in which the Press Council must now conduct its ‘reform’ is simply not ideal. I may have struggled to get my head around all of this, but I do know that if media bodies like the Press Council, as well as editors and journalists, become overly afraid of offending the ruling party to the extent where they bow to political pressure in both regulating and censoring themselves, then we are in serious trouble.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Are we rounding the corner on the media debate?

It's been an exciting day for those of us following the various (though inter-relatated) debates surrounding the state of the South African media and media freedom.

First, we heard last night that the Department of Communications has put the Public Service Broadcasting Bill on hold: this after various civil society groups made oral presentations last week Monday and Tuesday in Midrand, outlining their concerns with the bill in its current format.

Second, Dr Pallo Jordan seems to have changed his mind about a Media Appeals Tribunal. I have listened attentively to Dr Jordan at various discussions over the past month or so, and on each occasion he has emphatically supported the idea of a tribunal. He has even gone so far as to call those of us who oppose a Media Appeals Tribunal "hysterical", something which I was beginning to find rather irksome. Dr Jordan has systematically repeated the same arguments at a number of different discussions, debates and colloquia while always suggesting that critics of a Media Appeals Tribunal should stop complaining and rather engage in "sober discussions". Because I have never equated a legitemate concern for the health of my country's democracy (which may be damaged by the establishment of a Media Appeals Tribunal) as akin to drunkardness or hysteria, I took exception to Dr Jordan's recommendations.

No one was as surprised as me, then, this morning, when reports reached us that Pallo Jordan seems to have changed his mind about a media tribunal, apparently saying that the ANC is trying to create a "lose-lose situation" for itself. Referring to the ANC and according to News24: "Those who want to rubbish us will have every right to do so, said Jordan".

Well, that's a change.

The two developments of today make me think that perhaps, all the discussions, workshops, debates, conferences and colloquia are starting to pay off. Perhaps the Department of Communications and the ANC were always more open to listening to the various arguments presented to them by academics and civil society than some of us assumed them to be. Perhaps this is a first step to working together at finding reasonable solutions to fixing the things that are 'broken' in the South Arican media.

Jordan says NO to Media Tribunal

Thursday, October 21, 2010

When did we loose our “Rainbow manners”?

My mother was a remarkably intelligent, though unashamedly outspoken and un-politically correct woman. One of the things which irritated her most about the public rhetoric of the post-1994 ‘halo period’ was the politically-correct tone of discussions; in the media, between politicians, amongst public figures and so on. Remember those days? When we were all enamoured by our new constitution, proud of our new ‘Rainbow Nation’ and would not have dared utter racial slurs, angry rantings or rude insults of any kind, particularly not within the public sphere. The polite and politically-correct veneer of public discourse of that time frustrated my mother endlessly, and this was a woman whose own husband and brother had been imprisoned during apartheid for taking a stand against the government.

It’s not that my mother was not in favour of the new South Africa. She was. She had certainly sacrificed enough for it. But she would have like to see a little more honesty within public debate, with regard to how all the political stakeholders really felt about each other. (Thankfully, I think she was largely alone in this). But I am not sure if even my mother would have approved of the current tone of public rhetoric that seems to plague South African debates now. She was irritated by political-correctness, but she loathed rudeness. In a way, it seems that we have somewhere, somehow jumped from one extreme to the other. 2010 has been the year when suddenly it has become widely acceptable to adopt a level of indecency on the public platform.

My question is: is this widespread lack of decency (and in some cases, just a lack of good manners) indicative of a worrying downward trend in the collective ethical psyche of South African public voices, or are we simply purging ourselves of 15 years of strenuously maintained politically correct modes of communication? More importantly, if we are just taking a breather from being polite, are we going to pick that ball up again at some point, or are we simply going to decide not to make the effort to be nice, and continue on our current trajectory?

As examples of how we lost our ‘Rainbow manners’, I think of Julius Malema’s singing of the ‘Kill the Boer’ song earlier this year. No matter how you look at it, he must have known it was going to offend someone, yet he did it anyway. Why? This would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Gareth Cliff’s letter to the government on 12th October calls Blade Nzimande ‘ugly’ and refers to Jacob Zuma’s ‘bastard children’. Even though I agree with some of Cliff’s points, the tone of the letter was downright mean (which, I suppose, is true to Cliff’s persona). Obviously, the letter garnered some response and Blade Nzimande's chief of staff, Nqaba Nqandela, said: "Please note that Minister Nzimande is not going to dignify these rantings of a racist with a response”. Well, ok, I might be missing something here, but even though the letter was scathing, I did not see any racism in Cliff’s letter.

Which also reminds me that we have become terribly quick to accuse one another of racism these days. Again, Malema springs to mind: when he accused journalist Jonah Fischer of having a “white tendency”, also calling him a “bastard” and a “bloody agent” before throwing him out of a press conference. After the death of Eugene Terblanche, which all evidence would suggest was a purely criminal act, the media began punting notions of a looming “race war”, and had some wondering if the supposed civil war that had been averted at CODESA, had simply been postponed until now.  In this atmosphere of racial tension, there was the debacle of the “Don’t touch me on my studio” eTV interview when Andre Visagie and Lebohang Pheko had a rather ugly on-camera spat.

More seriously, I do not want to believe that the loss of our ‘Rainbow manners’ indicates a general loss of our ‘Rainbow ideals’. The most current, yet not the only, example of this would be the ANCs recent systematic attempts at limiting media freedom in South Africa, with the proposed Media Appeals Tribunal and Protection of Information Bill being only part of their arsenal in their battle with the free press. Here I would like to refer supporters of the idea of the Media Appeals Tribunal to a little piece of reading: Chapter 2, section 16 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa: point 1 reads “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes (a). freedom of the press and other media…”.

We know that other African governments are looking south for justifications of their own, sometimes dubious, actions. In Zambia, where the struggle for media freedom and a self-regulated press continues, the minister of information and broadcasting services, Ronnie Shikawasha reportedly said South Africa’s taking the issue of media self-regulation to Parliament is indicative that self-regulation would fail in Zambia, similar to how it is failing in South Africa.

Except that many of us who believe in a free press, do not feel that self-regulation is failing in South Africa at all. The symptomatic consequences of the ANCs rhetoric against the media are, however, having international consequences on the continent.

I raise this point to show that we must not think that what we do here at home, or how we choose to behave toward one another, goes unnoticed by our African neighbors. We have a moral and ethical responsibility to get in right in terms of how we do or don't regulate our media. Similarly, we have a moral responsibility to treat each other with dignity and decency, not only in terms of safe-guarding our now apparently fragile democracy, but also, because the rest of Africa is watching and it’s up to us to set an example.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


The value of thinking “outside of existing boxes” on media transformation was the broad consensus reached at a research colloquium on the South African media debate held at Rhodes University, Grahamstown on 16 and 17 October 2010.

Staged ahead of National Press Freedom Day on October 19, the event saw almost 40 journalism educators, scholars and researchers injecting intellectual contributions to the often-inflamed arguments around South African media.

Delegates presented 17 evidence-based research papers on different aspects of South African media, democracy and transformation since 1994. Engaging with the academics were Ismail Vadi, chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Communications and Pallo Jordan, chair of the ANC’s communications policy committee.

Other colloquium participants with influence on policy-making were Lumko Mtimde, active in the ANC, Aubrey Matshiqi, an independent public intellectual, and Ayesha Kajee of the Freedom of Expression Institute.

The gathering critically analysed the range of roles of the South African media, and the existing accountability systems of the Press Council and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa. Also under the microscope were the topics of ownership, access to information and the role of journalism teachers.

In the course of discussions, pre-conceived views amongst many participants were subjected to thorough examination, and efforts were made to find solutions beyond previously entrenched and polarised positions.

Many of the papers will be published in the academic journal Ecquid Novi, with extra copies being circulated outside of university audiences.

The participants agreed to encourage South African journalism schools to continue holding events and doing research around media challenges. Amongst the areas underlined for greater research were electronic media, quality journalism, ownership and its relation to content, language and media, accountability, media consumers and tabloid journalism.

The colloquium arose out of a joint statement in September by 20 South African journalism schools. In the statement, the schools registered fears that freedom of expression, media freedom and the right to information were at risk in South Africa, and expressed worry about the effect on their students.

At the same time, the schools voiced concern that much public discussion had taken on an antagonistic, and either-or character, which worsened tensions instead of working towards solving the underlying problems.

The statement then committed the schools to take part in a colloquium to address the issues in a more considered way. The October colloquium made good on this pledge. 

* Support for the event came from the Open Society Foundation, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

ANC declines to attend the BIG MEDIA DEBATE at Unisa

On 12 October 2010 the Department of Communication Science at UNISA hosted an event entitled THE BIG MEDIA DEBATE.

As an academic department and tertiary media school, we decided to organise this debate shortly after becoming one of twenty signatories on the joint statement of protest from a number South African Journalism and Media Schools, which expresses concern for the proposed Media Appeals Tribunal and Protection of Information Bill. That statement was published in the print media, covered by the press, and details that while as academics it is our job to educate and train students in the proficiencies required to function as media practitioners, in light of the current discourse surrounding the media, we are now unsure what kind of future we are training our students for.

At UNISA we planned this debate in the hopes that it would accomplish a number of things. First, we hoped to bring together panellists from varying sides of the debate so that this event could offer a balanced view and an opportunity to quite literally represent both sides of the argument. Second, we wish to encourage open, public and transparent debate and discourse since it can hardly be argued that the matters which will be discussed today, effect all South Africans in one way or another, and should therefore be explained and debated in an open forum. Third, we had hoped that such free and open debate could potentially lead to an eventual arrival at a form of resolution to this conundrum, and one which is not in any way, detrimental to our precious democracy.

The panel of speakers at the debate were as follows:

Prof Danie Du Plessis is the Chair of the Department of Communication Science at the University of South Africa, and was the chair of the debate.
Lindiwe Mazibuko is a Member of Parliament, and the national spokesperson for the Democratic Alliance.
Prof Guy Berger the Head of Journalism & Media Studies at Rhodes University and a columnist for the Mail & Guardian. He was also instrumental in the drafting and organisation of the joint statement of protest against the proposed Media Appeals Tribunal and Protection of Information Bill from the South African Media and Journalism Schools.
Prof Franz Kruger is the director of the WITS Radio Academy. He is a member of the Press Council and is the Ombudsman for the Mail & Guardian.
Dr Pieter Mulder is the leader of the Freedom Front Plus Party, and is the Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

While organising this debate I personally sent a number of letters of invitation both to the office of the Secretary General of the African National Congress and to the office of the National Spokesperson of the ANC. When doing so I made explicit our desire to bring together panellists from varying sides of the debate so that this event could offer a balanced view and afford the ANC an opportunity to lay out their ideas and proposals for the Media Appeals Tribunal and Protection of Information Bill. After many such letters and other correspondence, the ANC declined the invitation to send a representative to take part as a panellist today. The official response which I received from the ANC communications office reads as follows:

To:               Julie Reid
From:           Jackson Mthembu
Date:            06 Oct 2010

Dear Ms Reid

I would like to thank you for your email sent to the ANC Secretary General, inviting the ANC to a Media Debate, unfortunately the ANC will not be able to participate in the debate, the African National Congress (ANC) National General Council held in Durban took a decision to forward the input on Media Appeals Tribunal discussion to Parliament for parliamentary processes, we will be able to participate in debates after the parliamentary process have unfolded.
Kind regards

Jackson Mthembu
ANC National Spokesperson
ANC Head of Communications

I would like to venture to raise a point here: the ANC states that they are not currently willing to partake in debates concerning the Media Appeals Tribunal until this matter has been discussed in parliament. However, at the end of this week I will be attending a colloquim of a similar topic to be held at Rhodes University, and among the list of confirmed speakers at that event are Pallo Jordan, Lumko Mtimde, and Ismail Vadi, who are all members of the ANC. Added to that is the very public debate which took place last week in the Times newspaper, when Pallo Jordan and Justice Malala engaged in a war of words over the proposed Media Appeals Tribunal. It is difficult to understand then, the ANCs justification for abstaining from today’s debate on grounds that they are waiting for the matter to be discussed in parliament, when this is evidently not the case. Nonetheless, we see it as a sincere pity that the ANC has chosen not to be represented in this event here today, since this forum may have afforded the ruling party a platform to clearly explain their particular position on the matter of discussion.

At the debate each speaker was asked to present a brief statement of no more than ten minutes, which explained their position, or that of their party, with regard to both the proposed Media Appeals Tribunal and the Protection of Information Bill. Following these statements, each speaker then responded to a number of the statements delivered by fellow speakers. Questions were then be taken from the floor.

The general feeling at the debate was that, although the open forum encouraged lively and interesting discussion, it was obviously extremely dissapointing that the ANC had selected not to attend. As the ruling party, surely the ANC should have the responsibility to explain its suggestions for a Media Appeals Tribunal to the citizens of South Africa?

Please list your comments in the comment box below.

Julie Reid