Regulation of press goes against values of democracy

Posted: October 21, 2010 in News
Tags: , , , , , , ,

By Lisa Moore 

To be a democracy, or to not be a democracy... That is the question!

South Africa stands strongly in the belief of freedom of the press and access to information. The Constitution, our country’s highest law, provides that South Africa is “one sovereign, democratic state”, founded on four fundamental values, two of which clearly consist of freedom and a democratic government.

Freedom of expression, as stated in Section 16 of the Constitution, includes freedom of the press and other media. Not only does this aid in self-fulfilment, by informing individuals about what is occurring in the country, and the individual is left to form and develop his own thoughts, mind, opinions and come to his own conclusions, but this also allows the individual to express his feelings concerning these, and discuss and debate with others.

A free flow of information and the freedom to receive or impart ideas (see S16 (1)) is an essential part of a democratic society – suppression by the government or regulation of information just cannot be allowed in a democracy where citizens are, by right, entitled to a free flow of information on political and governmental issues. All citizens should be made fully aware of the pros and cons when they are voting for a particular party or politician during an election, and the press plays a very important role in this process.

A free press can provide an overview of all political parties and politicians, as well as act as a “watchdog” over the government, and expose corruption, incompetence and maladministration. By presenting this information, whether good or bad, all individuals are able to make an informed decision and are also kept aware and up-to-date of daily developments within the country and political affairs.

A free press also expresses and encourages public opinion by commenting on these news issues. Self-regulation, a form of censorship as recognised by the Constitution, involves self-control by the individual, where the individual censors his own speech, and censorship is imposed by the community. This self-regulatory mechanism maintains freedom of expression, a fundamental element of democracy. If the Protection of Information Bill is accepted, some very critical information could be “hidden” from society, as the government feels it is necessary.

A media appeals tribunal would mean that our government would control and regulate all information, even if it is in the interest of the public or their well-being. In the South African Press, the press code requires that news reporting is true, fair and accurate. However, what if the reporting is all of the above yet exposes corruption? Could it be that, through the proposed changes of law, the ANC wants to shut down the very medium that exposes their hypocrisy? Would they prefer for society to be in the dark and uninformed, rather than letting their secrets be known and found out? There would be no fairness in jailing journalists for exposing the crooks in our country.

President Jacob Zuma may defend the country’s plans for a statutory media appeals tribunal, yet he himself says that “[w]e have a responsibility to democratise every aspect of South African society, including the media”. It is important to understand the dilemma we are currently facing, in order to join the campaign to have the Protection of Information Bill withdrawn, and the proposed media appeals tribunal denied. It is sincerely hoped that the Constitutional Court will not uphold the request for a media appeals tribunal, just because it simply goes against the basic principles enshrined in the democratic Constitution.

You can have your say by emailing sayno@inl.co.za , which will be forwarded to President Jacob Zuma.

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