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SANEF celebrates access to information victory at the municipal level

The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) congratulates Anton van Zyl, the publisher and editor of the Zoutspansberger and the Limpopo Mirror, based in Louis Trichardt, for his significant victory for the right to access information.

Van Zyl secured an important court victory entrenching the use of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) as the constitutional right of journalists — and in turn the public — to ensure transparency in government. He used the magistrates’ courts to successfully enhance the media’s right to access information from the Makhado Municipality. His request was for information on a piece of land sold to developers that his newspapers were investigating. He wanted to know why the municipality had accepted offers with a combined value of just more than R3 million when it could have gotten R800 000 more for the land on sale. He also asked for information on the bidding companies.

Using a change to regulations that came into effect in October 2019, Van Zyl took the town council to the local magistrate’s court which ruled in his favour forcing the municipality to release the information about the companies that bided for the benefit of the local community.

SANEF notes that this victory is particularly symbolic because it has been achieved 11 days before the world commemorates the annual UNESCO International Day for Universal Access to Information. Civil society and the media around the globe recognise the importance of transparency and a culture of openness and accountability for participatory democracy.

According to the Access to Information Network 2019 report – a body of civil society organisations that collectively strive to advance access to information rights for ordinary people in South Africa – 66% of all requests made to municipalities or local government were ignored entirely. It indicates serious challenges faced by journalists and other organisations using PAIA.

Year after year, the Access to Information Network’s Shadow Report on the state of access to information in South Africa has demonstrated low levels of compliance with PAIA by government, state-owned entities (SOEs) and private companies. The case shows that compliance levels with PAIA remain dismal, and deliberately so, despite PAIA having been in operation for 19 years this year.

Previous research also points to the difficulty of communities and community media being able to use PAIA to get public and private institutions to release information. There is a generally a low rate of compliance.

SANEF believes that the right of access to information is fundamental to the proper functioning of democratic institutions which may be compromised when members of the public and media are unable to access it. Access to information enables more effective monitoring of state organs and private institutions, and the holding of those in power to account.

NOTE to Editors: The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) is a non-profit organisation whose members are editors, senior journalists and journalism trainers from all areas of the South African media. We are committed to championing South Africa’s hard-won freedom of expression and promoting quality, ethics and diversity in the South African media. We promote excellence in journalism through fighting for media freedom, writing policy submissions, research and education and training programmes. SANEF is not a union.

For more information please contact:

Sbu Ngalwa – SANEF Chairperson (073) 404-1415

Adriaan Basson – SANEF Deputy Chairperson (082) 562-2113

Mahlatse Mahlase – Secretary General (083) 399-2852

Nwabisa Makunga – Treasurer (082) 555-1972

Mary Papayya – SANEF Media Freedom Chair (082) 379-4957

Judy Sandison – SANEF KZN Convenor (082) 571-3334

Katy Katopodis – SANEF Gauteng Convenor (082) 805-7022

Chiara Carter – Eastern Cape Convenor – 082 659 9162

Kate Skinner – SANEF Executive Director – (082) 926-6404

Twitter: @SAEditorsForum

Email: [email protected] Website: www.sanef.org.za