What a media tribunal means

By Glenda Daniels

I wonder if the media appeals tribunal the ANC wants so badly will happen. Raymond Louw, deputy chairperson of the media freedom committee at the South African National Editor’s Forum (Sanef), who I interviewed on Wednesday reflected that it would, but in about a year’s time, after an investigation into its feasibility took place.

The ANC passed a resolution at its policy conference in Polokwane in December 2007 that it wanted Parliament to investigate the possibility of a media appeals tribunal. It reaffirmed this resolution at its national general council in September in Durban last year. Last week in Parliament ANC communications whip Stella Ndabeni indicated that she was keen to get the idea off the ground.

What is a tribunal?
Professor Franz Kruger from Wits Journalism, who has done extensive research on media tribunals around the world, said in an interview about two years ago, when the topic was current, that in fact these tribunals were on the upsurge in Eastern European countries, South America, and Africa.

Tribunals, if you take the Zimbabwe case, can mean registration of newspapers. At present any newspaper can exist. You don’t have to register with government. During apartheid days, all newspapers had to be registered.

A tribunal can also mean registration of journalists. Botswana is really battling to get journalists to register with the fairly new government-appointed body, but so far no fines have been imposed.

It could also mean that appeals against papers could have more punitive measures – for instance fines.

In China there is a government-appointed body – a tribunal if you like – that sees every article that goes through before publishing, and doesn’t have to impose any fines because the government has seen the piece before. This is pre-publication censorship, which the ANC says won’t happen here.

Well, let’s hope so.

The idea does not seem to have too much public support. But then the disbanding of the Scorpions didn’t have too much either, yet its demise happened quite soon after the ANC passed a resolution to disband it.

A recent TNS survey showed that only 31% of people supported both a media tribunal and the Protection of Information Bill (secrecy bill).

The ANC has major issues with the media, particularly the print media. The accusations range from “irresponsible” and “sensational” reporting, to “no respect” for dignity; from “inaccuracy” to an inadequate reporting of the good news, and even that the media is “bourgeoisie” and “capitalist-driven”.

Bad faith?
ANC Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said in October last year, after a two-day summit with Sanef, that he’d like annual engagement between government and media to iron out hostilities.

Significantly, he said that the media should be given the chance to review its self-regulation mechanism before any tribunal would be imposed.

This was not an agreement between editors and the deputy president, as has been commonly reported. He said this at a press conference straight after the summit. Nevertheless, this is a senior member of the organisation saying this, and many in the media industry thought the tribunal idea had been put on ice.

Barely a month later, the ANC wrote a letter to the Press Council “wishing us well but reminding us about the media appeals tribunal”, to quote Ombudsman Joe Thloloe. What do we make of this? Is this bad faith on the part of the ANC?

I don’t believe it’s a case of bad faith at all. There are some in the ANC who seem not to be so sure that a media appeals tribunal is the brightest idea in the world. For instance: Motlanthe, Pallo Jordan, and now I’m stuck, and can’t think who else, I’m sure there are others. Kader Asmal perhaps, but he has made himself persona non grata in the ANC for some unpopular positions — for instance, not supporting the secrecy bill.

On the other hand, we have the full-throttle supporters’ bench: ANC President Jacob Zuma, ANC Youth League President Julius Malema, South African Communist Party chief Blade Nzimande, ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu, government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi and now the ANC’s parliamentary communications whip, Ndabeni.

It’s not a case of the ANC not being sure of what it wants. It’s a case of a split ANC. There is no one ideologically unified ANC, there are many disparate tentacles and strands, shooting in different contested directions.

Meanwhile, the government launched its own newspaper at the end of March, Vuk’uzenzele, published by Manyi. It is in the interest of the independent media, (as in independent from political interference) that this government paper succeeds. Because if it does, and it gets its views, or the good news out there, it might leave the rest of the media free from the imposition of a media appeals tribunal.

What would happen if there was a media appeals tribunal? In a way, nothing much. Life would go on as normal, as in far too much corruption and a lack of accountability and service delivery. You just won’t find out about it. Journalists would probably self-censor, as they would be afraid of ANC censure. Basically, it would mean that Big Brother is not just watching but would be able to punish journalists for publishing unpalatables.

Glenda Daniels is advocacy co-ordinator at M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) and is on the Right2Know national working group.

  • lee

    PLEASE take the trouble to go to , follow the South Africa stop the Secrecy Bill and if you chose to do so publicize to all, sundry and everybody else. If not you might like to sign the petition, before the Bill passes and the government shuts you up that is! Best Regards

  • Dave Harris

    The Media Appeals Tribunal is necessary in order to raise journalism standards in SA to internationally acceptable levels since:
    1. Our toothless ombudsman system is hopelessly broken. Try getting the M&G ombudsman Frans Kruger to respond to your complaints!
    2. Censorship by the media itself is a huge problem! e.g. The entire commenting/feedback process within the M&G itself lacks transparency. Comments from certain commentators are delayed, reformatted to be unreadable, or out right banned! The ombudsman is strangely silent on these underhanded tactics.
    3. Our print media lacks diversity since its essentially controlled by a single conglomerate, a relic of the old apartheid propaganda machine, and acts as a mouthpiece for the DA.

    Anyway,the “head-in-the-sand” attitude of SA journalism is guaranteed to result in even more measures to curb our out of control media circus.

  • Siobhan

    @ “…Vuk’uzenzele, published by Manyi.”


  • Citizen Mntu

    Harris, “International Standards” in the Free World mean total openness, no censorship, full reporting on government antics, full support of good governance and an open society, and basically the news media being the watchdogs of a free society. The “Harris Version” = the ANC Version, which means a full-circle return to apartheid style attrition and censorship. I urge you to understand the truth.

    Everyone else (all Good Citizens) please sign the petition at

  • Cyberdog

    AS always … .Sigh.. It has to be dave harris that makes stuff up as he goes along… Media tribunal will do absolutely nothing to raise standards in any shape or form. It is not there to monitor quality, but content…. And I am not even going to respond to the other points… wow you seriously have to be a TIK user.

  • Bernard K Hellberg

    @ Dave Harris – our little “His Master’s Voice”. You refer to the “out of control media circus.” Yet, you forget one single, vital aspect:

    Information belongs to US, the people, and not to the conglomerate of corrupt, self-serving and plundering thieves laughingly described as our “government.”

  • Stephen Browne

    Dave Harris, the media can say/depict whatever the hell it likes provided it does not constitute hate speech, harm minors, depict overly explicit violence, and a number of other obvious things. Everything else goes. End of story. Your opinion is your opinion, and it stands to reason that you can tell other people about your opinion.

    You and those like you can take a short walk off a long cliff as far as I’m concerned. A sure sign off a open democracy is a wide -and by wide I mean bizarre- range of opinions. Hopefully people will be educated enough (there’s something to get upset about old chap) to choose the ones which have logical backing.

    If I am entitled to think that everyone who sits in parliament is a **** then so should you, and every other South African.

    Incidentally, have you taken a look at a few tabloids in the UK, the USA, or just about any other major democracy. They are a joke. So **** to your international standards.

    Note: self censored for your eyes.

  • MLH

    ‘What would happen if there was a media appeals tribunal? In a way, nothing much. Life would go on as normal…’
    Change is inevitable. With Manyi threatening to withold advertising and the ANC threatening to withold information to the existing media, we could be left with an exciting choice between Vuk’uzenzele and New Age from which to be force-fed the ANC position. If we think that the media has so far had a rough ride due to the recession, we could yet see worse. Can you imagine living in a country where only state-owned radio, tv and newspapers are allowed to publish anything even vaguely political?

  • Dave Harris

    @Stephen Browne
    The UK has the strictest libel laws on the planet.
    Media in the US is diverse with a FUNCTIONING ombudsman system and a legal system to protect the rights of individuals attacked by the press.

    Look at our media circus during our 2010 WC and you will see why FIFA has to constrain our own LOCAL journalists from fabricating negative stories not international journalists!

  • Vince Rautenbach

    As Patriots of the NSA it is your duty to sign up to this initiative…This will ensure that the news emanating from the National Democratic Revolution is supported:
    Fairly, Unbiased, Clear and Kleptocratically
    by U…

    Thank You Patriots!

  • Isabella VD Westhuizen

    The MAT is absolutely necessary. Why is there such a concentration of ownership of the media in SA. The MAT needs to ensure that newspapers are not all owned by a single Irish man who is also working for Mr Murdoch. It needs to break up cartels and ensure that alternative voices are heard. The M and G is extremely biased. Look at it’s anti Catholic Church pro gay agenda. Even its so called religion edition is so one sided it is hard to believe. I won’t go into it’s blatant pro DA agenda but that is also a bit obvious. Todays M and G is an imposter that is masquerading in the colors of the old Weekly Mail that did so much to help liberate us in the dark days of the 1980’s

  • Lockstock

    The one party state that South Africa is, has resulted in no real political opposition to the slime ANC. Nothing to keep them honest, except for the media, and this seems to be rather flacid, as they do what they want anyway. If this bill passes, no doubt we’ll see even MORE rapacious behaviour from the ANC ministers and their various hangers-on.

    How anyone can even consider supporting this bill, is beyond me, or anyone else who lives in the normal, free world. Dave Harris can therefor be excused.

  • vivian

    I don’t support the info bill, but for once I find myself agreeing with Dave Harris. Our media do tend to only report the negative and try to create a negative hype. The rape of a child will always reach front page, and so it should, but about two years ago, when a two year old child went missing and two men found her 3 days later and took her to Baragwanath Hospital, and they in turn recognised her and contacted the police who contacted her parents, all we got was a short page 6 story. Those two men should have been hailed as heroes by the media the same way a rapist is hailed as a monster. We have many, many positive thing happening in SA, and it would be wonderful if the media can publish a positive for every negative.

  • Siobhan

    All rational contributors: Please, remember not to feed the Trolls.

  • Lynda Jones

    The MAT is analogous to Pinocchio stomping on Jiminy Cricket! The media is the conscience of the government, of society and of social stagnation and change.

    Historically wherever media is muzzled human rights abuses increase – and of course media then cannot expose same – and corruption increases along with dictatorships.

    Hear the voices of the journalists who were detained without trial, tortued and murdered under Aparthied’s Protection of Information Act.

    It appears as if Puppet Zuma’s SACP and COSATU stringmen have decided that the Aparthied government had it right after all… God help us if the MAT is passed into law. It will be the end of freedom and our beautiful Constitution will be worth less than toilet paper!!

  • Mike Otgaar

    This bill seeks to destroy one of our basic liberties, our hard fought for right to FREEDOM of information. If this bill is passed, what will be next: Our freedom of speech, our freedom of our freedom of association, our freedom of movement…

    Before we know it, we will be back in the terrible days of National Party rule, where our very FREEDOM OF THOUGHT was policed by a brutal and despicable regime.

    The ANC seeks to return to a system that many of us South Africans gave up our personal safety, risked our body and mind, and surrendered our LIVES in order to overthrow.

    This bill if passed MUST be considered a CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY.

  • Julian Frost

    @Dave Harris:
    “The UK has the strictest libel laws on the planet.”
    Absolutely true, and there is now a movement to liberalise those laws.
    “Media in the US is diverse with a FUNCTIONING ombudsman system and a legal system to protect the rights of individuals attacked by the press.”
    We have the same system in South Africa. Anyone can sue a Media Company for libel. Also, please provide evidence that the Ombudsman’s Office in South Africa is not functioning.

  • Paul Whelan

    Reviving the threat of an MAT seems hardly credible given the row over the Protection of Info bill. For some of the isues that seem buried quite some time back:

  • Peter L

    @Davey Harrass
    “FIFA Had to constrain our own SA journalists…”

    Thank you – you actually had me LITERALLY laughing out loud.

    FIFA – would that be the same corrupt, discredited worldwide and headed by an egomaniacal septugenarian organisation which took hundreds of millions if not billions of SA taxpayers money out of the country that could have alternatively been spent on housing, schools and hospitals?
    That same FIFA?

  • Sinudeity

    There is one thing that fools like Dave Harris forgets:

    Information wants to be free.

    Even if you impose your draconian laws on us, firstly, it will never pass the constitutional court.

    Secondly, you will never be able to curb the flow of information.

  • Peter Joffe

    Although what I am about to say is not strictly about the proposed media clamp, it is worth noting as it hits the nail on the head.
    There is a song called “Give me the good news” and was sung by Crocodile Harris in the 50’s or 60’s.
    Here are a few of the verses.
    “Guns cannot build a nation”,
    “Force cannot sell a promise”,
    “War is a game where everyone loses”
    ” (rather) give me the good news”
    “Dictators never tell the truth” (this can also been applied to one party states which is the sad case in South Africa at this time}. The dream of 1994 has gone and the dark days loom again.
    Ma Sisulu’s dream has become a nightmare.
    At her funeral ANCA leaders praised her fight for liberation but that is in the past and now that freedom is in grave danger as the Treasury is now being ‘liberated’ into the hands of a few.

    The song “Imagine” was written by John Lennon and is most probably the world’s greatest ever hit.
    “Imagine” if Julius Malema would sing “Give me the good news” at his meetings rather than “Kill The Boer”?
    Unfortunately politicians world wide do not listen and hate is used to get votes.

  • Stephen Browne

    At the risk of feeding a troll (I am honestly starting to think that Mr. Dawes or some other M&G employee sadistically posts as this troll), news in an open democracy is going to be a bizarre, lopsided monster – it has to be if it is going to represent/inform the views of such a massive spread of people.

    One would not struggle to find someone who believes that a giant brown dwarf star meteor thing is going to interrupt our gravitational portals connecting us to the sun on the 21st of September. One would also not struggle to find people who believe(d) that a 2000 year old Jewish zombie would ‘return’ this year. Likewise, there are plenty of people who believe all the white people in SA will be dead within minutes of Mandela’s passing.

    As illogical and outrageous as you and your ANC buddies find the opinions of some media, you have absolutely no right to control what they say barring the transgression of a law.

    If you were to call for a higher standard of journalism, especially with regards to original research and basic grammar/form – there is some appalling work out there – I would be with you.

    However, this disturbing Orwellian approach is not endearing you to anyone. Think again.

  • MLH

    Don’t some of you sometimes wonder what would happen if Dave Harris were invited to a non-government cocktail party and introduced himself around? He might find no one who wanted to listen to his views. All might walk away.
    We all have the same right with the media. Within set legal limits, journalists may write according to their views. If no one wants to read them, no one will partake. That’s called freedom of speech.

    Anyone with a three-digit IQ can weigh the opinions of others and decide whether or not they agree. And that, Dave Harris, is why there are so many calls for you to be taken off Thought Leader. If M&G is quite as narrow-minded as even some of these commentators suggest, Dave Harris would never feature. We put up with him with difficulty, but I have grown inclined to think he’s not worth reading.

  • mandla

    The crux of the problem lies in the fact that in South Africa access to media power in terms of ownership, and gatekeepers is firmly entrenched in white hands. So the national media soundtrack, if one can say so, is unashamedly white and we should all dance to its music.

    And whites generally believe, including the journalism university professors, that their opinions and views are the absolute truth and should be valid for everyone in South Africa.We are all biased and have different points of view.

    Maybe black people should create their own newspapers for the 80% odd of the total population. This 80% is marginalised in the mainstream papers. In 25 years time if this continues whites will find themselves on the same receiving end.

    We all operate from our historical baises. It is immoral to the command media centre stage for 80% of the rest of the population and be insular about it.

    The fact that the ANC still hopes to legislate fairness and objectivity, is proof enough that it still loves its white “compatriots.” So the battle in South Africa is about whose opinions, and ideas must hold the day.

    Imagine Zulus being 10% of the UK population owning all the media houses and the gatekeeping editorial jobs and Opinion Editorials (OpEd)being worried that every English man is not Zulu enough in outlook and philosophy of life.

    Our media marketplace of ideas is sadly dysfunctional in South Africa and does not reflect our diversity.

  • Democrat

    Beautiful piece, Glenda. But yet again, the media rubbishes an idea, even before it takes off, without looking at the pros and cons of it. The media and some proponents of socalled media freedom has its facts about the ANC resolution on the Media Appeela Tribunal all wrong. You see, the resolution calls for “an investigation in the desirability to establish a media appeals tribunal” rather than advocating for its establishment. So instead of tackling the debate around regulation and self-regulation, the media seeks to draw attention away from its own flaws. You see, much as the TRC uncovered massive collusion by the media and the apartheid regime during its hearing on the “role of the media under apartheid”, I think the media is afraid that such a process will uncover much worse “sins”, (for the lack of a better word).

    This is not about “covering up” allege corruption and other social ill, but about leveling the playing field. The media MUST STOP BEING JUDGE AND JURY or PLAYER AND REFEREE. By participating in the “hearings” around the suitibility of the MAT, the media might be able to pursued society that it doesnt need such a tribunal afterall and that its own self-regulatory processes are suffecient to protect the innocent from sometimes infactual, libelous ranting of some journalist!

  • Dave Harris

    “if Dave Harris were invited…He might find no one who wanted to listen to his views. All might walk away.”
    In reality, if I were invited to say, one of Right2Know’s famous wine and cheese events, I’ll be luckily to crawl away with the number of knives in my back. 😉
    Thats how much our media circus loves free speech LOL

  • fraud

    Why are people being deliberately stupid? The media appeals tribunal is not censor anyone. Currently, the media have the power to destroy a person’s character or reputation, with either true or false information. If the information is true, then that’s fine. But if the information is false, through reglegence, incompetence, or some political agenda, then an apology will not restore the person’s reputation. In fact, nothing will. The only way for the victim of this shoddy journalism to get justice is if there is a heavy punishment put on the journalist and his/her editor. The kind of punishment that sends a message to the rest of the media houses that they need to do their jobs properly.

  • Clay

    Why is there hysteria about the hwole issue. Even from Glenda the examples you gave a not even what this tribunal is all about. Tribunal or no tribunal we will still get sub standard journalism! eish

  • graham

    Dave Harris – “Our print media lacks diversity since its essentially controlled by a single conglomerate”
    Sorry to burst your bubble, but a two minute google search shows that primedia is owned by “Mineworkers Investment Company (a black economic empowerment company), The Kirsh Consortium (existing founders of the company), management and Brait SA” (

    Avusa is a publically traded company.

    M&G is “87,5% owned by Newtrust Company Botswana Limited, owned by Zimbabwean publisher and entrepreneur Trevor Ncube. The London-based Guardian Newspapers Limited holds 10%”

    I am bored now. Please stop with this “single conglomerate” hogwash.

  • RubinB

    Dave, I do not see anyone participating in this debate sticking a knife in your back. It would be a waste of time and good cutlery. Please don’t rate your own contribution that highly!

  • Dave Harris

    We all know who really controls our print media. They spent many years preparing these elaborate corporate structures when whey knew apartheid was going to end, instead of attending to the important tasks e.g. integrating our schools and educating our workforce etc.
    I suppose you could use the same smoke and mirrors to claim that the DA is actually a black party? LOL

  • Graham

    Whatever Dave, point is there is no factual backing for your “single media conglomerate” opinion.
    “They spent many years preparing these elaborate corporate structures”. Wow, with all these secret agendas to remeber, I wonder where they find the time to govern the WCape. LOL

  • Dawid

    Does Dave Harris support the inclusion of the “public interest” clause in the Protection of State Information Act (“Secrecy Act”)?

    The debate seems to focus on ownership / control of the print media, but news / information is also spread via the internet, so they do not totally control the flow of information. The Secrecy Act will affect the possession / disclosure of information even by those who disseminate information via the internet – so what does Dave Harris suggest should be done to inform citizens about wrongdoings by the government / controlling political party if the public interest clause is omitted from the Act?

    If the government does not have anything to fear from the disclosure information which exposes such actions, why is it so stubbornly refusing to include the public interest clause?