Tight grip on media laws

By Rugare Nyamhunga & Loyiso Qoboshiyana

s the government justified in restricting media laws? Where should the government draw the line regarding censorship and commentary? South Africans are a gregarious bunch. This is a fact – from the dynamic Jonathan Shapiro, aka “Zapiro”, and his controversial cartoons, the arms deal saga, to the dropping of fraud and corruption charges against Jacob Zuma. The South African Constitution is the only constitution in the world that safeguards the independence of the broadcasting regulator against interference from the government. Let us revise a bit of history. After the 1994 democratic elections in South Africa, the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act 200 of 1993, which allows the freedom of speech, was carried over into the final Constitution in 1996 as the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act 108 of 1996. Come to think of it, “Are we free? Or are we dom?” Activate finds out if there is perhaps a fine line between freedom of speech and censorship.

Ros Dredge
2nd year MSC Biochemistry

I think Zuma has the power to change media laws but I hope he won’t because it’s only a matter of time until we see what’s happened in Zimbabwe happen in South Africa. But then again, I have a prejudice because I’m from Zimbabwe and the media there. I believe that ridicule is only necessary if you have a point to prove, not just for gossip’s sake

Daniel Lemmer
3rd year BA

The government shouldn’t tighten media laws. The media is supposed to be the watchdog of democracy. If we restrict the media, then we compromise democracy. Think of the arms deal, for example – imagine if nobody had known about it. But then again, free speech laws are not there for people to say whatever they want to say, or else this would be condoning hate speech. I would say that media laws are there to keep dialogue civil and disciplined. If the country was constitutionally run with a proper judicial system, then perhaps things like that Zapiro cartoon would be fine. But there is doubt.

Jacob Zuma once said something along the lines of how minorities, like academics, homosexuals and journalists, should be curtailed. This comment in itself leans toward dictatorship. It’s quite scary. But then again, you have to balance these issues out – we can’t make assumptions about what the government will or will not do in the future. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

Thando Mafu
2nd year BSocSci

I don’t think the government is right in restricting the media because the media gives people full detail, unless they’re hiding something. I don’t think it was controlled before, but for the government to see a particular loophole in the system and think of clamping down, then there must have been a fault of some sort in letting the media do as it pleases. Still, I think they are wrong in restricting the press. It’s like when you read a trashy magazine about celebrities. These magazines tell you things you otherwise wouldn’t have known about these celebrities. But the thing is, once you’re in the forefront, you can’t say you have anything to hide. When politicians put themselves out there, they’re out there and that’s it.

Anthea Garman BA [Wits], BA Hons [PMB], MA [PMB] Journalism and Media Studies Lecturer

The South African Constitution allows freedom of the media, but people in power try to suppress this freedom. Government control of the media is unlikely because, ultimately, the Constitutional Court, which is not run by the government, have the final say. This is why we see the government putting pressure on the media to tighten media restrictions. People can express disapproval in a democratic state, but when you are unpatriotic, you add a layer of pressure to the government. Someone else’s unchecked views may then put pressure on the entire country. The Constitution, however, is a protection, so it’s about whether or not journalists have the courage to put out what they feel people think. Personally, I go with no control of the media is a good thing. Government bodies really shouldn’t interfere. However, if the power to control the media to a certain extent comes under a responsible government, again that’s acceptable. But if you have an undemocratic government controlling the media, then that’s a problem. You never know how people in power will wield this power. Overall, government has power over information. Whether they choose for the media to have control or not is another story. Perhaps journalists should try to respect privacy as well.

Neliswa Ntanda 2nd year BJourn

If the government already sees fault in the media, then it’s going to get tougher for the media to talk about issues the government won’t want to talk about. It might turn out to be like the Zimbabwean government, where the news is controlled. That’s why I don’t think the government should put in place stricter media laws. Journalism is supposed to be objective, and as a result, the government would be eradicating the concept of objectivity even more on what journalists are allowed to write. This is why I think journalists should also report on the activities of politicians as well, because journalists are supposed to unpack information so that we as the public can decide who we want to be leader of our country. Even the scandals – you want to know things about your leader, because you don’t want a situation where you say to yourself, “Would I have voted for this person if I knew this?” If journalists stick to constitution laws and do not harm others in what they write, then that’s fine. If what they write helps society, then that’s fine too. In terms of media laws, however, I think history is repeating itself. The government is so powerful – there are already so many restrictions on the media as it is. I think it will get worse.

Daniel Sejanamane

Postgraduate Diploma in Enterprise Management

People are free to say what they want to especially if it is true, it wouldn’t be democratic if media laws got tighter, that’s why we have freedom of speech. Government is responsible for making laws and has a lot of influence and that influence is too much. The government shouldn’t abuse the responsibility of making laws; I can’t see the media being threatened by the government. Stories about celebrities and politicians should be published; they are public figures and never go private. Every piece of information about their private lives should be published; we need to know their behaviour patterns.

Peter Midgley

Postgraduate Diploma in Enterprise Management

I don’t know the current media laws, but it would be a bad idea and political move considering the flak that ANC is taking with the SABC. Government has a large influence especially behind the scene, media should be politically neutral. It’s quite possible to tighten media laws now, restrictions will increase. Celebrities have the right to privacy, but also a certain standard of transparency. Celebrities and politicians is supposed to be a role model and their private and public lives will always intertwine. Politicians like making promises that the public take seriously, in those situations the media has the right to ridicule them.

Thomas Christopher Countee 3rd Year BA

I don’t think the government is justified in restricting the media because it hampers freedom of speech. It also restricts our human rights because, under the Bill of Rights, in Chapter 9, freedom of speech is actually listed as a human right under the UN. In this case, I’ll use the case of Zimbabwe as a yardstick, because, if assuming the government continues to have a hand in the South African media, then we’ll have a situation of where the media in South Africa will be as controlled as the one in Zimbabwe. I don’t think that will happen, though – I feel that the people of South Africa have the intellectual capabilities to not allow our human rights to be infringed. People will be keeping a close eye on Jacob Zuma as the new president of South Africa, just as they have done in the US, with Barack Obama.


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