By Laura Hirahara
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa- South Africa’s Protection of Information bill, currently in front of the African National Congress (ANC), is being attacked by many in the media as a constraint on the rights of the press. The bill would allow the government to imprison journalists for anywhere between 3 and 25 years for disclosing information considered in the “national interest”. Critics claim the ANC’s definition of “national interest” is too broad since it includes “all matters relating to the advancement of the public good [and] the survival and security of the state.” The ANC claims it is simply trying to protect the government by curtailing sensationalism in the media. However, many fighting the bill believe it is trying to prevent any unflattering news about the government from being published.
Anton Harber, a former editor who heads the journalism department at the University of the Witwatersrand, acknowledged there has been inaccuracy and dishonesty in South Africa’s media, stating “Has there been a reluctance to apologize timeously [sic] and appropriately? No doubt.” Harber also stated there was a push amongst the editors in the industry to work together to end these problems with their reporters but the ACN’s bill had forced the media to close ranks and fight what they see as an attack on their fundamental freedoms.
Helen Zillie, a former reporter turned ACN opposition leader, says the restrictions posed by this new bill are worse than the apartheid measures she encountered while still a journalist. During her time as a reporter in the 1970’s, she was found guilty of “tendentious” reporting for publishing a story that Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko had not died of a hunger strike while in custody, later proven to be true. Groups and individuals like Zillie outside of the press have joined in their protests, forming large coalitions speaking out against the bill. The South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) has enlisted almost 200 different civil organizations and individuals to join in a week of protests against the bill set to start today. In a statement released Thursday, a dozen journalism schools in South Africa said, “[c]ritique can only bear fruit in an environment that allows for unhindered investigation, the gathering of sound empirical evidence and the free exchange of ideas.”
For more information, please see;
UPI– S. African Reporters Protest Media Tribunal– 18 Sept. 2010
AllAfrica– South Africa: Civil Groups to Protest Media Restrictions– 30 Sept. 2010
NYT– Proposed Media Law Causes Alarm in South Africa– 22 Sept. 2010