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Today Sanef commemorates Black Wednesday, that fateful day on 19 October 1977, when The World, Weekend World, Pro Veritate and 17 Black Consciousness organisations were banned.  SANEF also takes the opportunity to commend President Jacob Zuma for marking this day through frank engagement with journalists at a luncheon he hosted for editors and senior journalists at the presidential guest house yesterday.
We thank President Zuma for restating that “In crafting a new democratic order, we were determined that never again would our nation witness the harassment of the media such as that which occurred on 19 October 1977”.
However, SANEF would like to express serious concern about the president’s remarks with regard to the status of the Protection of State Information Bill, also known as the Secrecy Bill , as well as his apparent justification for the need for a parliamentary inquiry into whether to establish a Media Appeals Tribunal.
On the Secrecy Bill, the president said: “The Bill is still under consideration and various inputs and legal opinions are being processed. I had sent the Bill back to Parliament for technical reasons and they returned it with the changes having been made. Thereafter, further objections were received which were of a constitutional nature. The new Minister of State Security, Mr David Mahlobo, also requested to work further on some aspects of the Bill. At the appropriate time a determination will be made on the way forward.”
In terms of Section 79 (4) of the Constitution, once Parliament reconsiders and passes a bill sent back to it by the president, the president must either assent to the bill or refer it to the Constitutional Court for a decision on its constitutionality.
Given the large body of legal opinion that the Secrecy Bill remains unconstitutional, Sanef once again urges the president to send it to the Constitutional Court for a decision.
We would argue that “any further work on some aspects of the bill” by the Minister of State Security would in any event be unlawful, given that Parliament has already spoken, while the final arbiter of the legislation’s constitutionality remains the highest court in the land.
On the Media Appeals Tribunal, Sanef has repeatedly indicated its opposition to any possible introduction of such regulation. Sanef believes the current system of independent co-regulation, introduced after the ANC’s 2012 national conference resolution calling for the MAT inquiry by Parliament, does indeed answer critics who believed that the old system of self-regulation was too weak. While Sanef is nevertheless willing to co-operate with a parliamentary inquiry into the feasibility and desirability of a Media Appeals Tribunal, we are puzzled by the president’s reasoning on why such regulation is necessary.
Yesterday, the president told journalists, for example, that he was a victim, who had been wronged by the media for too long and that there was need for regulation: “The media wants to do as they wish. It’s not fair,” he added.
Sanef would like to emphasize that In addition to the new system of co-regulation & the beefed up office of the press ombudsman which includes a public defender to assist complainants against the print media, as well as the statutory Broadcasting Complaints Commission for the broadcast media, aggrieved parties are not precluded from further legal remedies. Defamation lawsuits, for example, remain part of the arsenal against unethical, damaging and erroneous reporting by the media.
However, we are pleased that the president anticipates that “Parliament will in its deliberations, take into account the media and freedom of expression provisions in the Constitution of the Republic”.
We welcome in particular President Zuma’s assurance that “nothing will be done which is in contravention of the Constitution of the Republic”.
It is this very Constitution that will ensure that the media in a democratic South Africa will never again face the persecution, jailing and banning that many of our colleagues endured under apartheid. It is because of the rights enshrined in this Constitution that we can indeed celebrate Media Freedom Day today.
Katy Katopodis
Sanef Secretary-general
(082) 805-7022