The following is a press statement from the Democratic Left Front:
The Democratic Left Front (DLF – www.democraticleftza.net) notes the recent concessions made by the African National Congress’s (ANC) on the Protection of Information Bill. While these concessions have improved the Bill, it will still be extremely difficult, if not impossible to ensure transparency of the most shadowy of all state structures, the security cluster. The grounds for classification of documents, and the definition of national security, remain overbroad, and will lead to documents that are of considerable public interest and importance being declared secret. The Bill also lacks a public interest/public domain defence in case people come into possession of classified documents, or if they are released into the public domain. This has serious implications for activists, who may come into possession of classified documents exposing abuses of power.
The DLF also believes that the Bill is not fundamentally about protection information that threatens the security of ordinary working class South Africans, but about protecting spaces for the ruling elite to continue their plunder of the state. The DLF therefore calls on parliament and government to use the next few months to reconsider the Bill and open up space for a genuine policy discussion first before a hurried passing of the Bill. The DLF also calls for sustained social mobilisation that challenges the anti-freedom of expression foundations of the Bill.
The DLF is also concerned about renewed efforts to establish a statutory Media Appeals Tribunal. The DLF is under no illusion about the lack of transformation in the media. Many DLF activists and working class communities have stories to tell about the middle class and politically centrist biases of the mainstream media. Rural communities are also painfully aware of the metropolitan bias of most of the media. Activists who do not come from the Congress tradition know that the media, including the so-called progressive press, have acted as kingmakers, favouring the ANC alliance and ignoring other liberation voices, and failing to reflect the diversity of working class politics. All these factors have created a media that is out of step in many ways with the very public in whose interest it claims to serve.
The DLF does not believe that the Tribunal is being proposed to address these problems. Rather the intention of its backers is to stifle the spaces that do exist for critical journalism, especially of political and government leaders, who because of the elite nature of much journalism, are the main subjects of critical reporting. Both the Tribunal and the Protection of Information Bill are intended to make investigative journalism impossible. The re-establishment of investigative journalism capacity is a major positive developments in recent years, although the DLF remains critical about the elite nature of much of this journalism. The Tribunal will stifle this form of journalism by making Parliament the judge of whether, for instance, the right the privacy of public figures should outweigh the freedom of the media.
The DLF supports the concept of self-regulation for the print media, but not as it is currently practiced by the Press Council of South Africa. Self-regulation is not meant to be about allowing the media unfettered space to make profits at the expense of ordinary people, as the ANC would have us believe. Self-regulation in its purest form is about journalists, as media workers, controlling the means of their own production. This is necessary as they, more than anyone else, should have a vested interest in defending ethical principles of journalism. This is why the largest global association of media unions, the International Federation of Journalists, argues that in making judgements about what constitutes good or bad journalism, journalists should recognise the primacy of the judgement of their peers.
But the same cannot be said for other centres of power in the state and society, such as governments, Parliaments, business, civil society, media owners, managers and even editors, who are likelier to have more of a vested interest in seeing journalism that reports favourably on them. Self-regulation should be about keeping journalistic decision-making as far away from these centres of power as possible.
The Press Council, as currently constituted, actually does not give effect to this principle, as journalists are not sufficiently organised to run it as a peer review system. The voice of the working journalist is weak on the Council, as journalists are largely unorganised, which means that they cannot defend spaces for democratic journalism adequately. Also, the Council does not act as a regulator of jouurnalism standards, but an adjudicator of complaints. This means that it has little to say about the ways in which commercial and other factors erode ethical journalism.
But the DLF also believes that the Media Appeals Tribunal and the Protection of Information Bill are merely symptoms of a much bigger problem. Jacob Zuma’s ruling elite, which was brought to power by the ANC’s Polokwane congress, is enhancing the coercive capacities of the state, and in the process centralising power in an increasingly unaccountable security cluster. The re-militarisation of the police, which has intensified state violence against protestors, attempts to drive unions out of the military, and the lockdown on transparency and accountability in the Ministry of Defence are also signs of the growing power of Zuma’s seceurocrats. The DLF fears that unless the growing power of the security cluster is checked, then South Africa may be well on its way to a national security state, which likely to contain growing dissent against service delivery and the capitalist system itself through repression.
For all the above reasons, the DLF supports the Right to Know Campaign (R2K) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) in their fight to have the Secrecy Bill withdrawn. We also support the need for civil society concerns to be the basis for any attempt to redraft the Secrecy Bill. The DLF will also actively oppose the ANC’s media tribunal and will champion its notion of genuinely democratic self regulation of the media, as part of the R2K.
FOR COMMENTS, CONTACT:
Jane Duncan – 082 786 3600
Vishwas Satgar – 082 775 3420
Mazibuko K. Jara – 083 651 0271