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South Africa: Proposed Media Regulations Would Establish Appeals Tribunal on Media Stories

(Aug. 24, 2010) It was reported on August 11, 2010, that the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) have proposed media regulations that would see the establishment of a Media Appeals Tribunal (MAT) to adjudicate complaints about media stories and make journalists legally accountable. (Zach Zagger, South Africa Journalists 'Appalled' by Proposed Media Regulation, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Aug. 8, 2010),
.) The ANC had adopted a resolution at its 52nd National Conference in 2007, stating that an investigation into establishment of an MAT:

should consider the desirability that such a MAT be a statutory institution, established through an open, public and transparent process, and be made accountable to Parliament. The investigation should further consider the mandate of the Tribunal and its powers to adjudicate over matters or complaints expressed by citizens against print media, in terms of decisions and rulings made by the existing self-regulatory institutions, in the same way as it happens in the case of broadcasting through the Complaints and Compliance Committee of ICASA [Independent Communications Authority of South Africa]. (Jacob Zuma (President of the ANC), Letter from the President: Let the Real Media Debate Begin (Aug. 13, 2010), [click on p. 2].)

The SACP has stated that “self- regulation by the media of itself is hopelessly inadequate.” (SACP Statement on an Independent Media Tribunal (July 19, 2010), SACP website,

Raymond Louw, Chairman of the South African Press Council, is among the journalists who have criticized the measure. In his view,

It has nothing to do with promoting press freedom but everything to do with the way the press reports on the conduct of governance including the conduct of cabinet ministers and other senior officials of the party. They don't want the public to be told of their poor governance, corruption by 'tenderpreneurs' and lavish life-styles. They want the press to report the African National Congress's version of what is happening. (Zagger, supra.)

Mary Papayya, Deputy Editor of the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF), was quoted as saying that SANEF “will do everything possible” to stop the proposed tribunal's establishment, noting that such a government-controlled body “would undermine media freedom guaranteed under the constitution” and voicing support for the current system of self-regulation through a press ombudsman. (James Butty, South African Media Group to Fight Proposed Regulation of Journalists, VOANEWS(Aug. 11, 2010),

The South African Parliament already has under review a bill on protection of information that journalists fear will interfere with investigative reporting; in particular, it would give the government the power “to classify a broad range of material that is not currently considered secret.” Papayya has criticized the bill, stating it “can have severe consequences for journalists. It means that there will be no access to certain types of information that is regarded as a state secret. It could lend journalists in jail for up to 25 years if they do break the law.” (Id.)