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Media slams South Africa’s ‘self-censorship’ Bill


4 May, 2007: The government of South Africa is under fire for amending the Film and Publications Act which could considerably limit freedom of the media.

While the Bill has already been the subject of intense, last-minute discussions between media organisations and the government, it has been submitted to Parliament unchanged, along with sections that will promote self-censorship in the media and also seriously harm media operations.

Even as the South African Parliament’s home affairs committee opened its public hearings on the Film and Publications Amendment Bill, media-related organisations described the Bill as offensive to freedom of the media that has been enshrined in the country’s Constitution.

Critics of the new Bill say that, under the guise of clamping down on child pornography, key clauses that exempt the news media from getting approval for the publication of certain material have been removed.

The Media Institute of South Africa (MISA), the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF), Print Media SA (the owners of newspapers), the Publishers Association of SA, the Magazine Publishers Association, and the Media Monitoring Project said the removal of the exemptions for news media was unconstitutional and urged that they be reinstated.

From the various submissions made to the Parliament’s home affairs committee, it was clear that if the amendments are passed into law without any changes, they would most certainly be challenged in a Constitutional Court.

Patrick Chauke (African National Congress), chairman of the Parliament’s home affairs committee, told the committee that there was no intention from either the Cabinet or Parliament to limit media freedom, but that the Bill was targeted at the South African tabloid market.

Chauke pointed specifically to the publication of pictures depicting the rape of children by drug dealers in a tabloid published from Cape Town.

He asked how media organisations equated democracy with the way in which pornography was eroding that very democracy daily. There is a need for the media to demonstrate a commitment to nation-building, Chauke stressed.

Nazeem Howa, executive director operations for Independent Newspapers, said he agreed that the publication of the offending pictures was a mistake and apologised. He added that the decision to publish the pictures was based on a need to highlight “evil on the Cape Flats” but admitted that the pictures went beyond “the bounds.”

Veteran media activist Raymond Louw expressed his “deep concern” that the Bill contains proposals for a major departure from terms and conditions that have been agreed on between the government of the day and the media industry.

SANEF chairwoman Ferial Haffejee said that, if enacted, the Bill could stop the dissemination of news. While the Bill’s target of child pornography is well-intentioned, it has unintended consequences, she said.




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