As the world commemorates International Human Rights Day, marking the anniversary of the General Assembly’s adoption of Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, South Africa is nearing the end of the year 2010, where new legislation and proposals were put forward that have the potential to severely clampdown on the realisation of our human rights to freedom of expression as well as access to information. The media are key enablers and protectors of our human rights and should be a champion for the realisation of human rights but need the freedom to do so.

The Protection of Information Bill, and ICASA Amendment Bill, if enacted in their current form, will have crippling effects on our rights of freedom of expression and access to information. As if that is not enough of an impediment to achieving key human rights, there is a possibility of a proposed Statutory Media Appeals Tribunal to regulate the print media. The Public Service Broadcasting Bill was recently withdrawn and would have also had consequences for independence and therefore media freedom. Our Constitution is the supreme law of our land that also requires our Constitutional values and human rights to be applied to law. It must be stressed that the media also have a critical responsibility to protect and not to fringe upon human rights, like human dignity and privacy.

Media Monitoring Africa cautions that current proposed legislation, if enacted in their current form, could see the attainment, and realisation of our human rights put significantly under threat. The Constitution is the ultimate law in our land, and the realisation of human rights is critical if South Africa is to fully “ heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights” (South Africa Constitution). The promotion and protection of our human rights cannot be fully achieved without a responsible media that is free to report freely, impartially, without favour without restricted access to information. MMA calls on government to uphold the spirit of our Constitution and human rights in any new legislation and statutory bodies established, which includes very importantly in relations to the media and its free functioning, like access to information. Or else the results could be rippling on our country and hard fought media freedom and access to information and other human rights alike.

A brief sum up of the threats (in their current form) to key human rights of freedom of expression and access to information, include:

ICASA Amendment Bill– grants powers to the Minister of Communications at ICASA that are both unconstitutional and illogical. There is no evidence or rational presented to substantiate the proposed amendments. ICASA has constitutionally enshrined “independence” and is the regulator for television, radio, including the SABC who broadcasts to the largest audience of the South African public. These new powers proposed include, the Minister may direct the ICASA Council Chairperson to perform functions as the Minister may see as necessary.
Protection of Information Bill will regulate the classification of information but poses many threats for the public’s right to receive information, access to information as well as the media’s right to freedom. For example, there is an absence of a public interest defence meaning where there could be a legitimate public interest defence for media to publicise and fulfil their watchdog role, going ahead and publishing could mean a minimum jail sentences of three years and maximums of five years each, for both the whistle-blower and the media.
Statutory Media Appeals Tribunal has been proposed by the ANC that Parliament investigate, would regulate the print media, and poses severe implications for the free flow of information and censoring content.
• The Public Service Broadcasting Bill has recently been withdrawn for more re-drafting, public consultation and research, and would have seen the SABC, community media and ICASA move toward greater risk of undue government control and Ministerial influence.

Join the debate about the media’s role in human rights on Media Monitoring Africa’s online initiative “Media Matters-debating South Africa’s media”:

For more information contact:

Prinola Govenden
Head Media Policy
Media Monitoring Africa
Tel: (011) 788 1278
Cell: 072 708 1320