Media Law in South Africa

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The Press Freedom Commission (PFC) was launched in July 2011 by the press industry representative body, Print Media South Africa and the South African National Editors Forum in order to set up a suitable regulatory media system for South Africa (Press Freedom Commission, 2012: 1). The Press Freedom Commission that was held earlier this year assessed all measures concerning co-regulation, self-regulation, independent regulation and state regulation so as to ensure that the media is accountable to the public that they serve and similarly to ensure the protection of press freedom (Press Freedom Commission, 2012: 1). This year, the PFC recommended that an independent co-regulatory system , which does not include State participation, would best suit the country. This would mean that the press are accountable to serve in interest of the population (Press Freedom Commission, 2012: 1). With reference to Julie Reid’s and Julie Posetti’s article in the Rhodes Journalism Review, I aim to evaluate various contexts and henceforth provide reasons for why I am in accordance with the co-regulation of the media. Under the South African Constitution, in the Bill of Rights (1996) it is stated that every person has a right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of press and the media, the freedom to receive or impart information or ideas, freedom of artistic creativity, academic freedom and freedom of scientific research (Act no.: 108 of 1996). Henceforth press freedom means the autonomy to communicate ideas, opinions and information without restraint. The media are a public trust with the ability to inform and influence and because of this power they should serve to represent the interests of the citizens without external institutional constraints. When analyzing freedom of the press with the current regulatory system, there are two powerful institutions in society which cannot be ignored, that is political and economic power. Under apartheid the freedom of the press was heavily restricted. The Newspapers Registration and Imprint Act of 1985, required that all newspapers had to be registered and conform to a strict code of conduct. In addition newspapers were also required to lodge R40 000 as a deposit before they could publish, as a result the act silenced many liberal newspapers (Manoim, 1996: 7). With the transition into a new democracy, self-regulation of the media was employed to uphold freedom of expression, a pivotal component of a true democracy. Self-regulation is a system that operates on self imposed rules by the media, it consists only of representatives of the media profession who use the Journalistic Codes and Ethics as a guideline (Reid, 2012: 1). The relationship between the government/ state and the media is one of conflict and dependency because on the one hand, the media are commonly referred to as the ‘unofficial opposition’ to the government. As ‘watchdogs’ they make public a range of issues concerning health care, education, corruption, unemployment etc and because of these disclosures the government repeatedly attempt to censor their biggest critic. As such, the government proposed a Media Tribunal, which could lead to the forced registration of all newspapers, the registration of all journalists and punitive fines(Reid, 2012: 1). The tribunal exemplifies the government’s hostility towards the media and it clearly epitomizes the Newspapers Registration and Imprint Act of 1985 . Another example constitutes as the Protection of Information Bill which will allow the government to classify specific information which is deemed harmful to the “national interest”. The government have suggested media-unfriendly laws which pose a threat to attack the heart of the struggle for democracy (Reid, 2012: 1). On the other hand, however, the media are dependent on the government for information and official materials and similarly the government depends on the media to produce important information to their...
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