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.

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

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