South Africa: Cosatu Seeks More Clarity On ANC Media Plans

Regulation & Policy

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) says it does not believe in media self- regulation but will not support a proposed media tribunal until there is more clarity on how it would be constituted.

Cosatu yesterday stated its stance on the African National Congress's (ANC's) proposal for a media appeals tribunal, along with the Protection of Information Bill that is currently before Parliament.

"We are opposed to self- regulation. We don't think it works," Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said during a media briefing at the end of a three-day central executive committee meeting. Cosatu can also not support the Protection of Information Bill as it "covers a far too broad range of information that can be classified on the grounds that it is considered to affect the 'national interest'."

The bill would make whistle- blowing dangerous. It would place additional responsibilities on trade unions, which would be obliged to report a worker or return classified information if a member sought advice on the regularities pertaining to a classified matter.

Amid ongoing debate over media regulation, the proposed media appeals tribunal is among the items up for discussion at the ANC's national general council meeting, scheduled for next month in Durban.

The labour federation said studies should be conducted to determine how transgressions by the media are dealt with in other countries, together with how the independence of such bodies can be safeguarded.

Last week the director of the Freedom of Expression Institute, Ayesha Kajee, said the organisation has commissioned a study to investigate best-case scenarios for media regulation. Its preliminary findings are expected within a week.

Cosatu said it will oppose any media tribunal that could be used to intimidate the media into condoning crime, corruption and incompetence.

While it accepts that apartheid security legislation needs to be replaced, it wants the Protection of Information Bill withdrawn and "completely reconstituted", Cosatu said.

Meanwhile, Cecil Burgess, chairman of an ad hoc parliamentary committee for the Protection of Information Bill, told Reuters yesterday that Parliament is likely to change the proposed bill. "What I do expect is that there will be a lot of changes," said Burgess, one of nine ANC members on the 15- strong committee.

He said likely changes could be seen in common areas of concern, which include the bill's broad definitions of what constitutes protected information. Legislators have also raised concern about the measure's constitutionality. "You do not want to now go and check on constitutionality issues when we are more than likely to change a number of things in the bill."

Burgess did not give further details of what changes might come but said the bill is undergoing review and probably will not make it into law before the end of the year.

Hendrik du Toit, CEO of Investec Asset Management, which manages about 70bn for investors, said positive sentiment shown by foreign market players towards SA after the World Cup could wane in the face of local and international criticism of the media reforms. "The timing of this bill is as unfortunate as is its content," he said.