Her Excellency chair of the African Union Commission Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma
Our guests who have seen it fit to support us – sharing our fundamental belief that media freedom, is the people’s freedom
My colleagues at SANEF, Good Evening……
Tonight is a special night for us – SANEF came of age last week – we are now 20 years and a week old.
It has been heart -warming reading some of the contributions of our founding members – tonight we salute them for their vision to unite the country’s editors and media practitioners beyond the racial and ideological divide, recognising that united we stand and divided we fall.
SANEF today is the most representative organisation of our media landscape and perhaps the only voice to represent our craft. We have among us, those from the public and private broadcasters, print and online media, community radio stations and newspapers and academics.
Ours founders committed to be the voice of ethical journalism, defenders of media freedom and ridding the industry of all past discriminations, whether racial or gender.
They realised that though the dark days of the apartheid regime that included jailing journalists, torturing them and forcing them into exile were behind us, for the constitution to come alive it needed committed champions.
As we mark two decades of our organisation, it gives us an opportunity to reflect on the journey traversed so far. And ours has been a roller coaster ride, we have found ourselves sometimes at odds with those in authority.
But as SANEF we appreciate that the lines of communication remain open – and we are still able to thrash out the differences – even though sometimes of course we walk away agreeing to disagree.
It is unfortunate that sometimes dialogue has not always resolved our differences and we have been unable to find each other but instead our battles have ended in the courts.
Most recently we were in the Supreme Court of Appeals, challenging the infamous signal jamming incident and the parliamentary feed service that remained locked on the speaker while a scuffle was unfolding between security services and members of parliament.
We do hope the SCA ruling that found that it was all unconstitutional is the end of that battle as we believe it was a victory not only for press freedom but for transparency for all South Africans. We believe they have the right to see in full what happens in the esteemed house and the actions of their members of parliament, whom they elected to guard our hard won constitution and to hold the executive accountable.
Unfortunately 20 years on we still have more than 100 laws that still need to be repealed or amended to bring them in line with the constitution.
We sadly have had incidences where for example section 205 of the criminal Procedures Act has been invoked on journalists despite a record of understanding reached between SANEF and the ministers of Justice and security and the Director of Public Prosecution in 1999.
We continue to call for the Protection of Information Bill or Secrecy Bill, still on the President’s desk to be taken to the constitutional court for ratification before being signed into law.
Madam chair, I also want to say we not always a group of wingers as some have labelled the 4th estate. We have heard some of the criticism in our society and responded to it.
One of the major things we did last few years was to contribute to the major transformation of the Press Council. You will be glad to know that it now operates under a system of co-regulation. The voices of the public dominates the council and our title editors have committed to ensuring that any censure by the ombudsman is carried out to the full.
Where we have been found wanting, we have apologised and it’s no longer in a small, hidden section of our newspapers but those apologies have been given the prominence in our newspapers and even bill boards. The BCCSA continues to deal credibly with complaints in the broadcast sector.
Of course we continue to strive to get it right the first time. However despite this major achievement that also extended the press council to include online platforms, that matter of the Media Appeals Tribunal remains a dark cloud that hangs above the industry following calls by the ANC for parliament to investigate its desirability
We are also responding to the precarious situation our journalists find themselves in while covering increasingly violent protests. We have identified training for hostile environment as a major project in coming months. We have also pledged to deepen awareness amongst communities of the role of media. This followed attacks on journalists by the members of communities during protests.
We have also continued talks with SAPS, on Standing Order 156 that regulates our interaction. We are encouraging our journalists to formally lay complaints with the police, so we can formally record the incidents and ensure that they are investigated and those found guilty are brought to book.
The SAPS leadership has agreed with us that it is illegal for the uniformed personnel to remove footage or forcibly remove members of the press from crime scenes. We look forward to further engagements with SAPS after they indicated they want standing order 156 to include social media.
Madam chair – while we highlight the threats from state, we also continue to introspect, realising that we are also facing threats from within the industry.
In the current tough economic conditions, that have seen our newsrooms shrinking and sales of print products also on the decline, we have seen heightened interference of publishers and media executives extending their hands on editorial pages and news programming. It is only with a united media, with enough resources that we can continue to push back the attempts of interference. .
SANEF remains committed to a diverse media. One of our flagship programmes is to train young women journalists in media management training – to break the glass ceiling that has been a barrier to their career progression.
Madam chair we have also heard the criticism from our colleagues at African Editors Forum that while SANEF was at the forefront of bringing together the continent’s editors – we have dropped the ball.
So this week’s workshop between TAEF and African Union to popularise AGENDA 2063 to make it a living documents in our newsrooms was part of our renewed contribution to the pan African ideals of both TAEF and the AU. We were encouraged by your pledge to champion media freedom in your interaction with the heads of state. We will be a partner with you in this regard.
As I end, to my colleagues at SANEF, as we begin a new decade, we need to recommit ourselves in presence, time and action to ensure that we continue to be the voice of our craft, always aware of our added responsibility to a quality brand of journalism, where ethics are sacrosanct as we speak truth to power.
We start this new era, encouraged by our partners that have heard our calls for support to ensure that this vibrant glorious movement of our editors, senior editorial executives and media trainers and academics has the financial resources to survive what is a truly treacherous period. They dug deep into their corporate pockets to be part of strengthening Sanef and through us, strengthening our democracy.
Let’s go out and spread the word, because united victory is certain.