The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) supports the critical importance of the free-flow of correct, fact-checked information from credible sources to ensure the containment of the Coronavirus. In this context, we understand the importance of government passing regulations in terms of the Disaster Management Act. SANEF notes that the specific regulation that is important to the media is:
(5) Any person who publishes any statement, through any medium, including social media, with the intention to deceive any other person about—
(b) COVID-19 infection status of any person; or
(c) any measure taken by the Government to address COVID-19,
commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months, or both such fine and imprisonment.
SANEF notes that this regulation is the first in democratic South Africa that criminalises disinformation. However, we note that what distinguishes it from previous apartheid laws is that it is narrowly and tightly defined. SANEF notes the importance of curbing the spread of disinformation – and its potentially devastating consequences – but we are also equally mindful of the problem of setting dangerous precedents for the long term. We call on the government to ensure that the regulations are strictly limited to the pandemic. In this context, SANEF welcomes the launch of the REAL411 platform by Media Monitoring Africa last night, which is a good response to the problem in normal times. We note that this is one of a number of important initiatives to counteract the dissemination of disinformation and misinformation in the media including initiatives from AfricaCheck.
Further, SANEF notes the government’s centralising of information around the virus to a few government spokespeople and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD). We understand the importance of government centralising information around infection rates – we think this is critical, in fact, we call on the government to release information on infection rates daily at a regular time and to hold briefings to give context to the figures. However, in terms of other issues, we don’t believe that there should be restrictions on the media accessing information from qualified epidemiologists, virologists and infectious disease experts from credible scientific institutions. INCIDENTS OF THIS CLAMPDOWN HAVE BEEN REPORTED IN THE MEDIA AND ARE CAUSE FOR CONCERN.
SANEF will keep in close contact with the government including the GCIS, the Department of Health and NICD to discuss these issues.
We call on the media, across the industry, to ensure that they cover the virus responsibly, using credible sources and evidence-based information, that they avoid creating panic and that they ensure that they do not stigmatise people who have contracted the disease. We also call on all media institutions to ensure the safety of journalists covering the pandemic.
Finally, we welcome the Information Communication Authority of South Africa’s (ICASA) decision to engage their licensees to open up their services to all South Africans. ICASA has noted that they expect a surge in the usage of data as children and their parents conduct schooling and work from home – and also access information on the pandemic. We welcome ICASA’s decision to have discussions with network service providers to facilitate affordable and/or free access to data – and their discussions with broadcasters to flight regular public service announcements on the virus and for subscription broadcasters, where possible to, open up their audio and TV bouquets for the purposes of disseminating information on the pandemic.
Click here to read ICASA statement.
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, education and training programmes. SANEF is not a union.
For more information please contact:
Mahlatse Mahlase – SANEF Chairperson, (083) 399-2852
Mary Papayya – Acting SANEF Media Freedom Chair (082) 379-4957
Judy Sandison – SANEF KZN Convenor 0825713334
Sbu Ngalwa – SANEF Eastern Cape Convenor (073) 404-1415
Janet Heard – SANEF Western Cape SANEF Convenor, 0780419528
Hopewell Radebe – SANEF Acting Gauteng Regional Convenor 083 582 1734
Kate Skinner – SANEF Executive Director – 082 926 6404