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S.Africa: Harsher laws against journalists?

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  • pbs@iafrica.com
    From: WWW.AfricanCrisis.Org [This is interesting. How Mugabe-like of the ANC! Are they taking correspondence courses or is Mugabe giving them a personal
    Message 1 of 1 , May 4 3:02 PM
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      From: WWW.AfricanCrisis.Org
      [This is interesting. How Mugabe-like of the ANC! Are they taking
      correspondence courses or is Mugabe giving them a personal tutorial on
      how to shut the media up - what little is left of it? Jan]

      Media organisations have slammed threats by the government to clamp down
      on journalists, saying stricter laws would cause a local and
      international backlash.

      Tusi Fokane, director of the South African branch of the Media Institute
      of Southern Africa, said it would be very difficult to pass strict media
      laws, considering the country's close proximity to Zimbabwe, where harsh
      laws are applied against journalists.

      "There would be a huge international and local backlash. In South Africa,
      democracy and the Constitution are supreme," she said.

      "I don't think the government would be able to pass such a law easily. It
      would be interesting to see how they go about doing it."

      The debate started last week when Minister of Minerals and Energy
      Minister Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka reacted angrily to "unnecessary alarm"
      caused when reports were published about radiation levels at the
      Pelindaba nuclear facility.

      She said there was no radiation threat and that the media had failed to
      check the facts with the government.

      "We are considering strengthening the law so that if people make such
      allegations, there is a sanction," Mlambo-Ngcuka.

      The minister said South Africa will study laws in other countries
      criminalising the spreading of inciting and panic-causing information.

      President Thabo Mbeki also entered the debate, dismissing statements
      about the existence of radioactive waste at the site as "reckless" and
      "very regrettable".

      But just days after Mlambo-Ngcuka's comments, more news reports were
      published, with an occupational health expert finding that out of a
      sample of 23 former Pelindaba workers, 10 showed signs of exposure to
      hazardous substances.

      Many of the workers were said to have diseases such as lung cancer,
      neurological disorders, miscarriages and other cancers.

      The Department of Minerals and Energy has launched an investigation into
      the matter.

      Herman Wasserman, a journalism lecturer at the University of
      Stellenbosch, said South Africa has enough media watchdogs, such as the
      press ombudsman and Broadcasting Complaints Commission.

      "It is not the government's place to clamp down on the media," he said.
      "There are enough bodies in place for the media to self-regulate."

      He said the government would have difficulty enacting strict media laws.

      "I think the government would not be able to impose such a law without
      being met with strong resistance," Wasserman said.

      The Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) said it is deeply alarmed at
      the government "threats".

      It said strict media laws would chill freedom of expression by
      encouraging self-censorship.

      "Such laws will inevitably be used to censor individuals, organisations
      and the media who attempt to raise pressing issues of public concern, and
      will foreclose on the search for truth in controversial matters through
      public debate," the group said.

      "It will also chill freedom of expression by encouraging self-censorship,
      as organisations may stop making controversial statements out of fear of

      The FXI said censoring organisations that raise "compelling public
      interest matters" is not the answer.

      If their concerns prove to be false alarms, the group said, then they
      will be discredited in the eyes of the public, which will be the ultimate
      deterrent for organisations making baseless statements. -- Sapa

      Source: Daily Mail & Guardian

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