South African National Editors Forum: briefing

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Communications and Digital Technologies

07 September 1999
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

7 September 1999

Documents handed out:
Information File
Chairperson’s comments on SANEF (see below)
SANEF Presentation : Mr R Fisher (Deputy Chair Convenor) & Mr M Williams (Executive Member)

The Chairperson's Introductory Comments on South African National Editors Forum (SANEF)

We welcome the representatives of the editors, journalist and the mass media of our country. Hoping that our interaction this week, the dialogue between the parliamentary committee on communications and the mass media will open a channel of constructive criticism and cement a long lasting relationship. This effort will certainly deepen, promote and protect the fundamental right of all South Africans to hold views, express them without any hindrance and build a democratic culture in our multi-lingual and united country.

Given the history of the media in our country and its relationship with the Apartheid State, it is important that we find a mechanism of continuous dialogue between the democratic state and the press. This dialogue should build and nurtured a relationship that is naturally tense and often confrontational.

Because we feed on each other, we should not be above criticism. Criticism should not be misconstrued as interference and proof that we seek to undermine the independence, the freedom of expression and professionally unbiased and objective reporting. Journalists and politicians often vie for the same constituency and the pressure to deliver is corresponding. The press gallery here in Parliament can vouch for this assertion.

An interesting essay on the Columbia Journalism Review Website titled 'the workplace Burnout" by Joan Marie Kalter says"

Journalism can be hard-knock life of intense competition, long hours, deadline pressure, physical danger, and raging ambition. For many, that adds up to more stress, worry, anxiety, internal conflict, and trauma than a person can handle. What happens then? Is there a strategy for coping?"

The promotion and protection of this fundamental right in our Constitution comes with certain responsibilities for the state and its organs but also and most importantly the practitioners- the press and the mass media in general.

The Press worldwide has traditionally always postulated as independent, committed to reporting the truth. However, the mass media as others argue is not merely a mirror of society or a praise singer or a happy clapper of the state. The mass media has the responsibility to receive and impart information and ideas to the population.

Praise singing journalism or happy clapping media will not contribute much to political debate. Quality, critical and constructive stories in the press will certainly deepen our democracy.

The essay that I referred to early said that . . . there has been tremendous change in journalism, and there remains tremendous uncertainty. Many newsrooms are increasingly profit-driven and short-staffed at the expense of journalistic values.

Media ownership in our country is in a few hands. Dailies and weeklies at national and regional levels including local newspapers are controlled by a monopoly of media companies. It is not simply a question of de-racialising media ownership and the newsroom; economic factors must be taken into consideration when we refer to ownership and control of the media.

As the book The Press, Politics and the Public say, "Economics are certainly basics to the role of a newspaper in society. Economic standards are the ones which ultimately decide whether a newspaper stays in existence" But a New York professor pointed to increasing evidence of direct and conscious manipulation of the news process by higher corporate powers and by advertisers generally

The Com Task report says the following about journalistic standards in SA. "Journalism appears to have become a depleted and somewhat demoralised profession ... There are few reporters with more than three or four years experience. Only a handful is over the age of 30. This means that important assignments are being handled by inexperienced, over-worked and young reporters."

SANEF Presentation

Mr R Fisher Deputy Chair Convenor of Media Freedom Committee and Mr M Williams Executive Member of SANEF gave the presentation.

The South African National Editors' Forum was conceived at an historic meeting of the Black Editors' Forum, the Conference of Editors and senior journalism educators and trainers at the Breakwater Lodge in Cape Town from October 18 to 20 1996. They decided to unite in a new organisation called the SA National Editors' Forum, which recognised past injustices in the media and committed itself to a programme of action to overcome them and defend and promote media freedom and independence.

The objectives of the Forum include:

· To nurture and deepen media freedom as a democratic value in all our communities and at all levels of our society.

· To foster solidarity among journalists and to promote co-operation in all matters of common concern among the print and electronic media.

· To address and redress inappropriate racial and gender imbalances prevalent in journalism and news organisations in South Africa and to encourage the equitable spread of media ownership.

· To promote media diversity in the interests of fostering maximum expression of opinion.

· To help aspirant and practising journalists to acquire or develop new skills and professional depth through media education programmes.

· To promote rules and regulations guaranteeing professional freedom and independence in broadcast media and all media funded by public authorities.

  • To encourage government to ensure transparency and openness in administration and to pass laws ensuring maximum freedom of information.
  • · To defend media freedom through all available institutions, including the Constitutional Court.

    Since its inception, great strides have been made in various areas relating to the promotion of these founding aims.

    1. Leading the debate

    A regular exchange of views has taken place between members of the Editors' Council and the President and Deputy President of South Africa. SANEF has also spoken out strongly on matters of principle affecting the profession, such as on the landmark Bogoshi judgment, and the detention of editors in Zimbabwe. It has facilitated the mobilisation of the media in the Partnership Against AIDS campaign and campaigns to end violence against women and children. Various seminars and debates have been held on media freedom and transformation, especially in relation to gender and technology.

    2. Defending the integrity and credibility of our profession

    SANEF has spoken out and/or lobbied on issues where access to information by journalists has been restricted, or where journalists themselves have been harassed or intimidated because of their work. eg. Newton Kanhema issue, freed Cameroon editor, prevention of intimidation of reporters, PAGAD, meetings with political leaders, etc

    3. Forging links with like-minded groups

    There is regular liaison with organisations such as the Freedom Forum, the Print Media Association and the Freedom of Expression Institute on matters of common concern. Sanef is a partner in several projects to promote ethics and the integrity of the media profession, eg. the Nat Nakasa award, (run jointly with the Nieman Foundation and the Print Media Association); media freedom documentaries, industry surveys, etc

    4. Representing the profession on legal/restrictive issues

    Meetings are regularly held with the Ministers of Justice and of Law and Order: a Record of Understanding has been signed with the Justice Minister to limit the use of Section 205 of the Criminal Procedure Act (the so-called 'reveal your sources' legislation) against journalists.

    A joint task team (Sanef members and Justice Ministry members) was formed to review Section 205, and to work with the Law Commission on ensuring a review of all restrictive legislation that conflicts with the Constitution. Sanef is currently engaged in a project with the Centre for Applied Legal Studies at Wits University to update a document of legislation which conflicts with the freedom of expression clauses in the Constitution. Sanef Council members were instrumental in ensuring that the new Electoral Act included a Code of Conduct, aimed at preventing the intimidation of journalists. Sanef is also giving input into new media legislation such as that governing "cyberspace".

    5. Striving for professional excellence

    Great progress has been made in co-ordinating print and broadcast training initiatives and in setting practical standards in journalism education, with SANEF representatives working with the various groups tasked with setting these up. Sanef has hosted several constructive briefings and workshops in 1997 to facilitate a more professional working relationship between journalists and representatives of various government departments. A very successful pilot workshop on gender and diversity was held in Durban earlier this year and will be repeated, improved and updated in all provinces during the next 12 months. Its aim is to stimulate debate as to how issues such as gender violence are portrayed in the media, and whether there are different ways in which journalists can provide a more holistic reflection of South Africa and

    its people. Sanef's executive is also engaged with the Human Rights Commission on their Commission of Inquiry into Racism in the Media.

    6. Recruitment drive to represent the full spectrum of the industry

    Sanef is growing and is already a voice to be reckoned with in the

    industry, making the organisation more visible in newsrooms and in the public eye. Sanef is working with UNESCO and the University of Natal's Centre for Cultural and Media Studies on a major survey of human resources in the media industry. The project is expected to be completed soon and will provide key information on corrective action, employment equity strategies and the state of media transformation in general.


    1. Resolution on Violence Against Women and Children; and AIDS.

    Violence against women and children and the impact this has on the spread of Aids and HIV in South Africa is a national crisis. This was one of several key issues, which emerged at the South African National Editors' Forum's second annual general meeting held in Durban at the weekend. The forum also reiterated its concern that AIDS and HIV was one of the most serious issues facing this country.

    The conference heard that recent studies indicated that 17 000 women are killed and raped every year in this country. This is 7000 more than the death toll for the Kosovo conflict. South African women are not killed by strangers. Every six days a South African woman is murdered by her male partner. South Africa is the only country in the world where children are presenting with HIV because they have been raped in the misguided belief that this will cure the rapist of the disease.

    The editors resolved to mobilise the media to address this crisis by breaking the silence, which has sanctioned the slaughter and abuse of women and children.

    Speaking at the Forum's gala banquet, Deputy President Jacob Zuma endorsed the campaign and promised his support.

    The forum also pledged to guard against stereotyping of all kinds, including sexism and racism, which perpetuate this problem. The editors resolved to form a working group to spearhead the campaign, which would focus on media monitoring and encourage more comprehensive and balanced coverage of the issues.

    2. Actions against journalists:

    The SA National Editors' Forum expresses its satisfaction at the agreement reached with the government over the introduction of safeguards to prevent the indiscriminate use of Section 205 of the criminal Procedure Act - the so-called "reveal your sources legislation" - against journalists. But it urges the government to speed up the process of amending the Criminal Procedure Act to provide legislative safeguards to achieve the same purpose. It also urges the government to implement urgently its request that legislation that conflicts with the freedom of expression clauses of the constitution be scrapped or amended.

    3. Police gag:

    Sanef expressed its alarm at the instruction issued to the police not to issue statements freely to the media and the threat to "re-deploy" officers who do so.

    Sanef believes that this Instruction will shut down communication between the police and the media, which is essential in a democracy that aspires to be transparent and accountable. Sanef notes that the instruction emphasises that communication channels should be controlled by senior officers. It regards this approach as being a reversion to old-style authoritarian practice, which has the undesirable effect of censoring information.

    4. Racism in the media:

    Recognising that racism is an important and very public issue, the AGM of Sanef tasks its Management Committee to continue active engagement with the SA Human Rights Commission on the matter.

    That Sanef asks its members to be mindful of the stereotyping (such as race and gender) and urges them to activity encourage debate around these issues in their own areas of influence.

    5. Student journalism:

    Noting that the right to freedom of expression under the South African Constitution is guaranteed to all, including students of tertiary institutions, Sanef calls upon all such institutions to review their procedures and regulations relating to student journalism and freedom of expression in line with the constitution and the Bill of Rights.

    Sanef expresses concern at the expulsion of a student, Max Harnata1 from Peninsula Technikon for exercising his right to freedom of expression and urges the Technikon to review its decision and reinstate Hamata.

    6. Media freedom:

    Sanef commits itself to a Media Freedom Campaign to change the laws restricting the freedom of expression, access to information and protection of sources guaranteed by the Constitution.

    7. Relations with politicians:

    Sanef noted the improvement in relations between politicians and journalists during the 1999 election campaign in comparison with the 1994 elections. This was largely due to the efforts by Sanef and other organisations to ensure the inclusion of a Code of Conduct in the new Electoral Act Sanef believes that the example set during the 1999 election campaign bodes well for the municipal elections due next year, but will continue to monitor the conduct of political parties in politically volatile areas and will play a role to promote tolerance if necessary.

    8. Relations with government:

    Sanef looks forward to continued cordial relations with government in an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding in perpetuation of our respective roles towards the further entrenchment of the democratic ethos in South Africa.

    9. Government relations with media:

    Sanef urges government, in particular the GCIS, DOC and the responsible ministers, to recognise and engage Sanef as a representative body for the news media, and its members as principal stakeholders in any effort to formulate policy, strategies, regulations, discussion papers and legislation that may impact on media and flow of information.

    Questions by committee members

    Ms N Mtsweni (ANC) asked to what extent did the culture inside the newsroom change, and how do editors verify the correctness of the stories reported?

    Mr M Williams said that SANEF look at ways of representing cultural diversity. In this light, transformation is taking place through out the media, e.g. the restructuring of the SABC. SANEF is currently involved in major equity programmes, which is clearly evident in the newsrooms. Previously, women issues were not taken through, because they were not involved in the decision process. The questions regarding verification was not answered.

    Mr T Maserumule (ANC):" To what extent can we speak of media freedom?"

    Mr R Fisher said that editors are only accountable to their readers and to the administration of the newspaper.

    Dr Mulder (FF) said that there is a huge monopoly on SABC media. Why?

    Ms Smuts (DP) asked if SANEF has been called upon by the ruling party or the president, with regard to the content of certain articles.

    Mr Williams said that since the launch of SANEF in 1996, they were aware of the perceived monopoly. Printmedia has been involved in an initiative with regard to diversity, which aims at encouraging as many voices as possible, even if it is conflicting, because this contributes to diversity in society. Nation building represents diverse views, therefore diversity is important, and we do not want to represent one voice. We are not aware of SANEF individuals being called in by the president. At our request, we have met with President Mbeki when he was still Deputy-President, for the interchange of ideas and concerns. There was no discussion with regard to the content of the media.




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