South African media regulation poses threat to its constitutional values

The ruling African National Congress is pushing through measures for greater state control of the media in South Africa, by way of a Protection of Information Bill, currently being debated by the legislature, and a proposed Media Tribunal, which would make the country’s press answerable to parliament.  The Protection of Information Bill would introduce criminal offences such as publishing classified information, with a broad definition of “national security”, and minimum prescribed prison sentences for breaches.  The justifications offered by the ANC – that the media is imbalanced, resistant to change and cannot regulate itself – raise questions when set against a background of long-running tension between the ruling party and the press, the latter of which is perceived as taking an ‘anti-ANC’ stance. 

The proposals have been met with outrage from South Africa’s media, free speech defenders and opposition parties, who have branded the measures as “Orwellian”, and highlighted the dangers of the slippery slope of censorship.  The 1996 South African Constitution is internationally praised as one of the most progressive in the world, particularly its Bill of Rights, which sought to redress the endemic injustices of the Apartheid era, and includes a detailed guarantee of freedom of expression, including freedom of the press and other media.  The current government must ensure those constitutional protections are upheld.  Accusations of censorship must be countered by ensuring the protection of freedom of expression for all, including opposition journalists, and the highest safeguards must be put in place against abuse of any media measures that enter into force, so that they protect only legitimate national interests, and not political ones.


1 Response to “South African media regulation poses threat to its constitutional values”

  1. 1 Olivia September 8, 2010 at 10:46 am

    Protection of the freedom of the press is especially important in a country like South Africa, where politics are dominated by one major party. Here, the media has an important democratic role in challenging and opposing the government, which in many other countries is taken on by political opponents. Restricting the media may not seem like as severe a measure as restriction of opposition parties, but the effect can be the same.

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