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Thread: Freedom of expression under siege?

  1. #1
    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
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    Freedom of expression under siege?

    There are strong warning signs that there is a shift on freedom of expression issues with lots of fires breaking out at the same time.

    Suddenly it seems the Publications Bill issue is not over.
    South Africa's editors and the government's legal team will meet "as a matter of urgency" over concerns about the Film and Publication Bill.

    This was announced in a statement jointly issued by the government and the South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) after talks at Tuynhuys in Cape Town on Wednesday.

    Also on the agenda was the handling of media coverage of Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.

    Sanef and the government had agreed to convene a "special seminar" on the media's role in democracy and the balance between the right to privacy, the public interest, media ethics and freedom of expression, they said.
    full story from M&G here
    Any linkage between discussion on freedom of the press and recent coverage of a government minister is, I'm sure, entirely coincidental.

    Of course, we get a little sample of how the ANC would like to debate issues in this report:
    There was an uproar in the National Assembly on Wednesday when Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Mike Waters was ordered to leave after a written question he posed to Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang was ruled out of order.

    Speaker Baleka Mbete ruled the question -- whether Tshabalala-Msimang had been convicted of theft in 1976 while employed at a hospital in Botswana, and whether she had disclosed this information to President Thabo Mbeki when she was appointed to her portfolio -- to be out of order.

    "I have ruled the question by Mr Waters out of order because it transgresses the rules and practice of the National Assembly ... which forbid the use of offensive or unbecoming language.

    "It is patently clear from the question that was submitted ... that it reflected on the integrity of the minister, as it implies impropriety on her part," said Mbete.

    Her ruling provoked an uproar from DA benches, with both DA MPs Ian Davidson and Tertius Delport rising on points of order, but being ordered to take their seats by Mbete. Waters himself then rose, and called on Mbete to tell him which words in his question were "unbecoming".

    Mbete told him to take his seat, saying she was finished with the matter, but Waters repeated: "I would like you to direct me those words!"

    She then ordered him out of the House.
    full story from M&G here
    Chucked out for requesting an explanation. Clearly public debate and opposition is counter-productive, a notion reinforced by this little tidbit as the ANC welcomes their crosstitutes:
    The defection of DA provincial chairperson Kent Morkel and provincial executive member Kobus Brynard was announced at a high-level ANC press conference in Cape Town led by national chairperson Mosiuoa Lekota.

    Lekota lauded Morkel and Brynard as genuinely patriotic South Africans.

    Others not in the ANC should reflect on the usefulness of remaining in political parties and formations that "can only criticise", expending energy that could be positively expended if they joined the majority, which was inside and behind the ANC, the defence minister said.

    "Because the real thing our country needs, is a united people that puts its energies in the same direction. Inside the ANC is a very wide space for very intense debate and evaluations of policy," he said.

    Once capable men and women joined the ANC, they became a valuable asset in shaping policies of quality.
    from IOL here
    A rather solid argument for a one party state, I think.

    And then if there was any remaining doubt around how things stand at the SABC:
    The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) had demonstrated nothing but arrogance in pulling out of the South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) over reports about Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, said the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) on Wednesday.

    The SABC's "drastic position" was a clear departure from the mainstream media and seemed to suggest it was "distancing itself from being a media house", Misa-South Africa spokesperson Dumisani Nyalunga said in a statement.

    "Misa-SA would have expected the SABC to act as a champion and loyalist of press freedom and media freedom in general," he said.
    full story from M&G here
    From the same story, we have the SABC position:
    The national broadcaster reportedly said that it would no longer stand idle "whilst we are being made a whipping boy and a scapegoat by the profit-driven media".

    "Even less are we prepared to associate with the enemies of our freedom and our people.

    "We cannot remain quiet while our mothers and our democratically chosen leaders are stripped naked for the sole reason of selling newspapers."
    I guess from that "our freedom and our people" are the party.
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

  2. Thank given for this post:

    Butch Hannan (29-Aug-10), Graeme (24-Apr-09)

  3. #2
    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
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    It looks like I'm not alone in questioning the heavy handed approach of gov.
    Meanwhile, the row over Tshabalala-Msimang is casting doubt on government's integrity and transparency, says South Africa's largest and oldest Pentecostal church.

    "The media disclosures about the health minister have caused damage, but the banning of an MP from Parliament for raising a question about the row has far-reaching consequences," the Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa (AFM) said on Friday.

    In a statement signed by its four national office bearers on Friday, the AFM, which has a membership of 1,2-million, said the "core integrity" of South Africa's democracy was being undermined by an inability to face up to facts and give a truthful explanation to the nation.

    It said the row surrounding Tshabalala-Msimang, the hasty firing of her deputy Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge and the "gagging" of the DA's member of Parliament were doing serious internal and international damage to South Africa.
    extracts from M&G article here
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

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    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
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    Helen Zille also draws attention to the merger of party and state.
    The African National Congress is intent on turning South Africa into an authoritarian state, Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille warned on Friday.

    "The evidence is now overwhelming: the ruling party is increasingly authoritarian, intolerant of criticism and hostile to the principles of an open society," she said in her weekly on-line newsletter.

    A recent series of essays on the ANC's website had made the point that those in opposition were not only the "enemy" of the ruling party, but of the state too.

    There were also the words of Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota, who - in a recent defence of floor-crossing - had said the ANC would not rest until "every member of the South African public is an ANC member".

    Further, there was the "brazen" way ANC headquarters had over-ruled a parliamentary portfolio committee's SABC board nominations "in favour of key, hand-picked Mbeki loyalists".

    And there was the decision, announced by SABC head Dali Mpofu, to withdraw the state broadcaster from the SA National Editors Forum because of newspaper exposes that showed "disrespect for our people".

    Zille said these strands, taken together, revealed a state of affairs described in George Orwell's political allegory "Animal Farm", in which the oppressed seized power and become the oppressor.

    "Following the same trajectory as many revolutionary movements in history, the ANC's logic is clear: it has the monopoly on morality, defined in its programme of a 'national democratic revolution', which is the only key to progress. This makes opposition redundant.

    "All black people owe their loyalty to the ANC. Those who criticise ANC leaders have been perverted by the 'enemy' to betray their people. Whites can only be cleansed of the stigma of racism by joining the ANC.

    "Opposition is, at best, an irritation, and at worst a betrayal of the 'national democratic revolution'. A one-party state would enable the ANC to implement its policies unhindered."

    This was the type of logic that led to dictatorship, Zille said.
    from IOL here
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

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    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
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    The ANC's desire for a media tribunal answerable to government to regulate the press is causing a stir.
    The establishment of a media appeals tribunal as proposed by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) threatens the right to press freedom as well as individuals' rights to free expression, the press ombudsman said in Durban on Monday.

    Ombudsman Joe Thloloe, speaking in Durban at a debate entitled "The New ANC and the Media", warned that "once media freedom is threatened, it is an individual's freedom of expression that is threatened".

    "From the way it's [the Constitution] written I accept we in the media hold press freedom as trustees. We are just custodians on behalf of the public in general."

    He said the ANC's claim that it will support self regulation conflicts with its desire to establish a tribunal that is "accountable to Parliament".

    "We have people [in the ANC] who talk the acceptable language we love but at the same time raise issues that make us wonder about their intentions.

    "Once a tribunal is accountable to Parliament we have moved into new territory, where it is no longer self regulation -- and therefore press freedom and freedom of expression are threatened."

    Thloloe said that a self-regulatory system can be criticised as favouring those who established it -- in South Africa's case 640 publications had promised to abide by the rules of the press ombudsman.

    "If you look at the system, the idea is the newspapers themselves, the magazines themselves, saying we want to do the best we can because our stock-in-trade is our credibility."

    He said a self-regulatory system will ultimately guarantee freedom of expression in South Africa.
    full story from M&G here
    On the flip side.
    At its conference last December, the ANC resolved to set up an investigation into the need for a tribunal.

    "The aim is to strengthen the self-regulation mechanism of the print media ... there is no such thing as an attack on media freedom," Motlanthe said.

    "As usual the media are overreacting. They say that the ANC is hyper-sensitive to criticism but look at the reaction of the media to this the tribunal -- they see it as an attack on media freedom."

    Motlanthe said the debate was, in fact, about the competing rights and freedoms of the media against the right to privacy and the personal dignity of people.

    Jordan said it was understandable, given the history of media repression in South Africa, that editors reacted so quickly to any suggestions they were not doing their jobs properly.

    "If you want to engage in the cut and thrust of politics you must not only be able to dish out but also to take it ... without crying and squealing."
    from M&G here
    And I suppose the ANC call for a tribunal isn't squealing?

    Tarred and feathered with your own brush, Mr Motlanthe.
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

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    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
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    South African media faces the threat of political censorship if new information laws are passed through Parliament unchanged, media firms argued at public hearings on Tuesday.

    The Protection of Information Bill put forward by the African National Congress-led government seeks to replace apartheid-era laws that also governed the protection of information.

    It has been lambasted by media, civic organisations and opposition parties as draconian.

    Among other measures, the Bill would make the unauthorised disclosure of information a crime and journalists could be prosecuted for espionage. Investigative reporters fear that would severely limit their ability to break stories.

    "The present formulation of the Bill ... has the result that there will be censorship of political expression," said Dario Milo, an attorney for Avusa, publisher of Business Day, the Sunday Times and other papers.

    He said Avusa took exception to the Bill's broad definition of concepts such as national interest, its unprecedented regulation of commercial information and disregard of the defence of public interest in publishing information.

    South African politicians have increasingly approached the courts to prevent the publication of details of deals that have drawn accusations of corruption. Until now, they have had limited success.

    Milo agreed with the opposition Democratic Alliance member Dene Smuts that an unintended consequence of the bill was that it could cover up corrupt practices by its regulation of commercial information such tender bids.

    The Mail and Guardian also argued against the bill.
    full story on M&G here
    This is the key: the Bill would make the unauthorised disclosure of information a crime and journalists could be prosecuted for espionage.

    So would you authorise publication of a story about you that you don't like, if you had the power?
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

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    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
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    The media has made its representations...
    The setting was Parliament's committee room V475, where public hearings took place on Tuesday into the draft Protection of Information Bill. This proposed legislation would provide a new regime for classifying state information and punishing unauthorised disclosure.

    A string of submissions -- including one from the Mail & Guardian -- raised concerns about the broad swathe of state information that could be cloaked in secrecy under the Bill.

    All noted the "chilling effect" it would have on public accountability, which would be exacerbated by the penalties for unauthorised disclosure of information. In terms of the new Bill revealing even the lowest classified "confidential" information will mean up to five years in jail without the option of a fine.

    Avusa (publishers of the Sunday Times, Sowetan and Business Day) said the Bill allowed for an "unprecedented" level of classification of state documents that would lead to "censorship of political expression".

    The Freedom of Expression Institute described the Bill as "an extremely blunt instrument" that would serve as a "blank cheque" for officials to deny access to information.

    Allison Tilley, head of the Open Democracy Advice Centre, warned that officials were already taking the safe option by routinely refusing legitimate requests under the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), a view endorsed by committee member Llewellyn Landers.
    full story from M&G here
    It seems the committee was not particularly receptive, though.
    But there was Kafkaesque dissonance between what the presenters were saying and what some of the members of the committee were hearing.

    The committee is a temporary ad-hoc body, formed to consider the draft legislation. The majority of MPs present also serve on Parliament's intelligence oversight committee which has confidential access to the intelligence services and some of its reports.

    The intelligence oversight committee jealously guards this privileged access and is careful not to be seen as soft on security. Committee members are more likely than the intelligence officials themselves to ask for parliamentary hearings on intelligence to be held in camera. During the public hearings the committee chair, the approachable Dr Siyabonga Cwele, seemed rather pained at all the fuss made about secrecy.

    Weren't we -- the petitioners present -- concerned about the national interest, he asked, somewhat rhetorically.

    Didn't the media often confuse the public interest with their own commercial interest?

    And were we seriously arguing that judges should make decisions on national security?

    At one point in the hearings some of the politicians' underlying suspicion of the media boiled over: MP Ismail Vadi burst out with the claim: "But we know that journalists also serve as spies … how do we deal with that?"
    How does he know this? He didn't say: it's a secret.
    Can we really expect this committee to be objective?

    Government's message is "trust us."
    My answer is "on your current track record - you've got to be joking!"

    Too many things keep popping out from under the carpet.
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

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    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
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    An old thread I know. But I think this story shows why we need a free press.
    The City of Tshwane has been left with a bloody nose after challenging a Carte Blanche exposé of fraud, corruption, incompetence and nepotism in the administration.

    The Broadcasting Complaints Commission said on Thursday it had dismissed a string of 25 complaints by the city against a hard-hitting programme broadcast by M-Net in October last year.

    The commission said in a statement the city had produced no evidence to counter many of the claims.

    It had even "compounded the fraud" in one matter, related to the appointment of the executive secretary of the chief of metro police, by giving incorrect information in its complaint documents.
    full story from M&G here
    This sort of dirt needs to be hauled out into daylight for all to see, otherwise it will never go away.
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

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    Yes and sadly it is only the beginning. In short government wants to control the media, publications and mainstream censorship of news and other such events will be a reality soon. The first symptom of a lost democracy is government controlled media and censorship. I find it ironic that the very tool that was used to fight for freedom is now being dismantled by the very people it served...

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    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
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    For the time being it seems the courts are keeping press freedoms and our right to transparent governance alive.
    The Mail & Guardian, together with Avusa, Independent Newspapers and e.tv, has won a significant battle for press freedom and the principle of open democracy.

    At 4pm on Wednesday Judge Frans Malan ruled in the South Gauteng High Court that a "preliminary investigation" by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) into a complaint of misconduct against Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe, and his counter-complaint against the judges of the Constitutional Court, must be opened to the public and the media.

    The JSC had sought to hold the hearings, which are to be conducted by a three-person subcommittee of the JSC complaints committee, in private, despite the fact that it had already conducted an extensive review of the evidence in public following an earlier court ruling by Judge Nigel Willis.

    Advocates Kate Hofmeyer, for the M&G, and Steven Budlender, for e.tv, argued that the decision to exclude the public breached fundamental principles of the Constitution and of administrative justice.

    The JSC, supported by counsel for Hlophe, had sought to keep the hearings closed, with the JSC's advocate Bashir Valley arguing that the media "turn serious debate into pornography" and are "driven by their own agendas".
    full story from M&G here
    It's rather disturbing though that the JSC, which after all is responsible for the conduct of judges, was one of the parties opposing press access.

    How much longer can we rely on the judiciary to look after the interests of the ordinary citizen?
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

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    J Zuma signs Films and Publications Amendment Bill

    President Zuma raises the bar in the protection of children against inappropriate media content

    7 September 2009

    On 28 August 2009, the protection of South African children against inappropriate media content and child pornography received a boost when the President of the country, Mr Jacob Zuma, signed the Films and Publications Amendment Bill 27 of 2006 into law.

    The amendment Bill, first introduced in 2006 by the Department of Home Affairs created uproar and contestation within the media industry which viewed it as a hindrance to the freedom of expression. The decision of the President has provided the Film and Publication Board (FPB), and those involved in efforts aimed at protecting children against pornography and sexual abuse and exploitation with the assurance that the rights of children to be children as articulated in section 28 of the Constitution remain paramount. Also, the board has been empowered to enforce stricter regulations and ensure compliance by industry.

    The amendments hold the owners and operators of all telecommunication channels targeted at and used by children responsible for the content created and distributed within those mediums. Evidence points to the fact that some of these mediums are used as platforms for sexual abuse, exploitation and grooming of children.

    They (operators) are required to take the necessary steps in ensuring that their services are not used by any persons for committing offences on children. Failure by operators to display safety messages to children on advertisements for the services, failure to provide mechanisms to enable children to report suspicious behaviour by any user, and failure to report to the South African Police Services (SAPS) the behaviour which indicates commission of an offence against children is a punishable offence.

    The amendments also allow for the establishment of a fully fledged council, which will be constituted by a different range of stakeholders, including representatives from industry and the non-governmental sector. This will strengthen the Board’s accountability and adherence to corporate governance. Consultations have already begun with different players within the industry and government, in order to agree amongst other on the framework for self regulation for those required to self regulate protocols on protection of children against pornography etc.

    The FPB continuously strives to inform members of the public, so they are empowered to make decisive choices regarding what to watch and not watch.

    More...
    Last edited by Dave A; 09-Sep-09 at 11:29 AM.

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