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									   Summary notes from the Goedgedacht Forum for Social Reflection dialogue of 6 September
                           2008: ‘The social compact and poverty’

Lead-in speaker:
Professor Anton Harber   Caxton Professor of Journalism and Media Studies, University of the Witwatersrand


Facilitator:
Andries Odendaal


Other participants:
John Allen               Managing Editor, AllAfrica.com
Brendan Boyle            On-Line Editor, Sunday Times
Monica Graaff            Editor, Mindshift Magazine
Peter Just               Nan Hua Temple, IFRB
Aubrey Matshiqi          Senior Political Associate, Centre for Policy Studies
Michael O‟Brien          Clinical Psychologist
Val Pauquet              Project Manager, HEARTLINES
Gerald Shaw              Journalist
Peter Soal               Consultant, Goedgedacht Forum Board
Else Strivens            Editor, Trefoil
Bertram Swartz           United Congregation Church of South Africa, IFRB
Christopher Townsend     Social Communications Officer, South African Catholic Bishops Conference; Chairperson, IFRB
Richard White            EAT Co-ordinator
Karl Wirtz               Desk Officer for South Africa, Misereor



Observers
Lou Shaw
Peter-John Pearson       Director: South African Catholic Bishops Conference Parliamentary Liaison Office (CPLO); Board Member:
                         Goedgedacht Forum

Staff:
Felicity Harrison        Project Director: Goedgedacht Forum for Social Reflection
Desiré Jackson           Administrator: Goedgedacht Forum for Social Reflection

Report writer:
David Yutar              Journalist and Lecturer




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    Notes from the Goedgedacht Forum Dialogue of 1 November 2008: Free Speech or Freedom of Press Run Amuck? The Role of the Media in a Democratic South Africa



Free Press or Freedom of Speech Run Amuck?
Professor Anton Harber, Caxton Professor of Journalism and Media Studies, University of the Witwatersrand


Introduction
Professor Harber outlined the critical issues in the discourse about press freedom and freedom of expression. Key
elements of his address were:


               The real focus of the debate should be about who sets the limits of free speech rather than about what
                those limits should be;
               Government should not have the power to set these limits;
               It is necessary to enquire as to whose values inform and dominate the media in their reporting of news;
               Freedom of Speech carries a cost but its advantages outweigh such costs;
               Media diversity is essential to ensure that a broad spectrum of interests are represented;
               The SABC is the single biggest obstacle to media diversity and is failing to fulfil this role at a time of
                political transition;
               Government’s role is not to censor but to promote media diversity;
               Journalists should define their own areas of concern rather than allow Government to define the debate as
                one about the limits of media freedom and responsibility;
               Under-reporting is just as much an issue as the media’s exceeding the limits of their freedom;
               Areas such as courts, science, environment and food security are especially under-reported;
               The media’s failure to cover issues crucial to democracy undermine their argument for freedom of speech;
               The controversy surrounding Zapiro’s Zuma cartoon does not justify the argument that Government
                should define the parameters of good taste: Editors should enforce good taste by responsible editing;
               Editors need to consider the consequences of what they publish;
               They must make decisions based on the values of good taste and appropriateness and those values cannot
                justify their publishing anything at any time in any place;
               There is a fundamental difference between censoring and editing and editors must not be afraid to do the
                latter;


Freedom of speech carries a cost. That is something we have to face up to in a democracy and something we have to
convince those who hold political power. Giving people the licence to express their views means that we have to live
with views we do not like, we strongly disagree with, or which may possibly even offend us. That is the cost of freedom
of speech.


But the advantages of free speech in enforcing accountability, empowering citizens and promoting national debate and
discussion far outweigh such costs. That is what we have to get the government and the ANC to recognise, post-
Polokwane. Freedom of speech has its costs, it is true, and that cost can cause pain and discomfort to individuals, even
groups, but the advantages of free speech make it worthwhile. Tactically, we need to argue for freedom of speech on the
basis that it empowers citizens to exercise their rights, that it serves citizens and not just the media.


The debate is focused on what the limits of free speech should be. Has our media run amuck with distasteful cartoons,
intrusions into the private lives of politicians, and assumptions of guilt whenever a person of power is accused of
anything? That is certainly the debate being defined by the government and the ANC. But the real issue I think we
should focus on is not what the limits should be, but who sets them.


The last thing you want is to give government or its appointees the power to decide on such matters. Government is an
interested party, and its interest is in setting tight limits. Even if government is representative, it is important to realise
that it does not always act in the interests of citizens. Often it acts in its own interests, as an institution determined to
ensure its own self preservation, and this is particularly true when it comes to the media.


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    Notes from the Goedgedacht Forum Dialogue of 1 November 2008: Free Speech or Freedom of Press Run Amuck? The Role of the Media in a Democratic South Africa




There are a number of options for how we can go about setting those limits, or, more specifically, interpreting the limits
as defined by the constitution. All of these options are healthier than allowing government to do it. It can be done by the
courts. It can be done by the media itself. It can be done by independent bodies. It can be done by a combination of
these.


It is true – even trite - that the media is also a source of power and influence, and is not always answerable for it. It is
true that the media also represents a particular set of interests and these are often the narrow interests of those who have
access to the media. The way we counter this is through media diversity – ensuring as best we can that media access is
not confined to a few, and that it represents not one interest group but competing and not homogenous interest groups,
as widely as possible.


Government policy is to promote media diversity, but if government were serious about media diversity, it would give
serious resources to the MDDA. It would consider other ways of promoting and supporting small and community
media. It would consider the argument to break up the SABC – the biggest single blockage to media diversity. It would
issue more radio and TV licences. It would open up the internet, making it cheap, fast and accessible. And so on.


The first thing we need to do is define government‟s role. It is not to define what we can or cannot read or say or watch.
It is to promote media diversity and access. And it is failing to do this. I am only suggesting that they be pushed to
implement their own policies.


Government has in recent years seen its role as critiquing the media and trying to get it to change the way it reports.
That is not government‟s role. All they are doing is expressing one view, which they are entitled to do, but it is the view
of an interested party. Government‟s role should be to facilitate the conditions for a more diverse media, for wider
access to the media by South Africans and promote the free flow of information. If the government wants to empower
people through information, it needs to sharpen up the Promotion of Access to Information Act and give people greater
access to the official information which can allow them to pursue their rights.


It needs to sort out the SABC. Never mind the board and CEO shenanigans: the core issue as I see it is that the SABC is
not fulfilling the role it should in a time of political turmoil, excitement and change. When ruling parties split, when
ruling elites are torn asunder, it provides rich pickings for the media and the public.


It was most striking this week that at a time when we expect the SABC to be stimulating the national debate about the
new political party, raising the issues and – to use their own advertising phrase – having the conversation, the leading
role was played by a commercial station, 702 and possibly 567 (I was not able to hear it, but I presume it did much the
same as 702 in carrying an important live debate this week).


SABC news failed us in the build-up and coverage of Polokwane and is failing us now. They should be the institution
making people talk, listen, debate and argue with each other. If we are to have that conversation, and not resort to
hitting each other, then the SABC should have a central role. But I think we see that it is itself too caught up in the intra-
party shenanigans to do what journalists should do. The decision of how to make this conversation happen, needs to be
made not by deployed cadres in the SABC, but by journalists whose interest is not in one side of the argument but in
making the argument happen.


We have made the mistake of letting government define the debate as one about the limits of media freedom and the
responsibility of the media. Actually, as journalists we have to define our own areas of concern.




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    Notes from the Goedgedacht Forum Dialogue of 1 November 2008: Free Speech or Freedom of Press Run Amuck? The Role of the Media in a Democratic South Africa


The issue for me is not whether the media is going to far, but those areas which we are under-reporting, or reporting
poorly. It is the gaps in coverage, gaps which affect our democracy, which I think are of greater concern.


To list just some areas which are under- or poorly reported by our media, in ways which weaken our democracy:
          - The courts, particularly the Constitutional Court. I spent last weekend at a conference of judges talking about
          their relationship with the media. To hear the litany of complaints about inadequate and inaccurate reporting
          was most disheartening. Our standing among judges could hardly be lower. They depend on us to ensure
          citizens are aware of the Constitutional Court and its important work. When we don‟t do it – and mostly we
          don‟t – then we are undermining their standing and, in the long run, their capacity to protect us.
          - Science, particularly the implications of climate change
          - Food security


I choose these three as just a set of examples of things that South Africans really need to be discussing and debating,
and which we should ensure they do in an informed way.


Our argument for freedom of speech is undermined when we are not playing this role. The better our coverage, the
higher our credibility in this argument, and the greater the public support. We have to constantly remind ourselves that
as we claim the space of media freedom, it comes with responsibilities and burdens. We are given this space on the
assumption that at least some of us will use it to give proper coverage to the institutions and processes of democracy
and provide the information that citizens need to act as citizens. If we don‟t, our fight for freedom of speech is only self-
interest, it is only protecting our businesses. We have to be able to argue that we are meeting the obligations which
come with the rights.
This means investing in proper coverage of things which are important to our democracy; it means making ourselves
indispensable to the public. It means having them appreciate the role we play, so that they will defend us. Interestingly,
I think the only media outlet in this country which appears to have the passionate involvement and support of its readers
is the Daily Sun. If the government were to act against that paper, I think they would lose a lot of votes.


Against this background, I want to make a few remarks about the Zapiro cartoon, which has been at the centre of debate
about the limits of free speech.


I have written that I found the cartoon to be in poor taste, but I would defend Zapiro‟s right to be shocking and
provocative, even encourage it, and I would vociferously oppose any suggestion that the rules of good taste should be
set by government or its appointees. As I wrote at the time, would you have Julius Malema give you guidance on
matters of taste? Would you be confident he would use such a power wisely and soberly? Well, certainly not soberly.


But editors should enforce good taste. Editors must edit. One interviewer asked me early on in the controversy if I
would have run the cartoon as an editor. I instinctively said yes. And I heard that answer echoed by a number of my
peers. I asked a number of ex-editors and all of them said or implied that they would feel obliged to run it, even if it
made them uncomfortable.


I think I gave the wrong answer. And I think that the right answer is instructive. What I should have said is that the
decision to run it depends on factors such as the time and the place. It may be more appropriate to run it in one paper,
perhaps an outspoken and cheeky intellectual paper, but less appropriate in a family newspaper. It would depend on
what paper I was editing, what role it played, who read it. Editors have to make judgements about timing and the
appropriateness of saying things at different times – and shouldn‟t shy away from it.




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    Notes from the Goedgedacht Forum Dialogue of 1 November 2008: Free Speech or Freedom of Press Run Amuck? The Role of the Media in a Democratic South Africa


I suppose I am saying that if editors want to keep the right to make decisions based on taste and appropriateness, then
they must make those decisions. They must not allow a free-for-all. They must make decisions based on a set of values
– and those values cannot be that they must publish anything at any time in any place. They have to consider the
consequences of what they are publishing and decide accordingly. They must be prepared to defend those decisions.


I suppose I am saying that I would defend an editor‟s decision to be provocative and even offensive, providing it is not
done for its own sake. Providing it is not done because an editor feels that to edit out stuff which is distasteful is
censorious. There is a fundamental difference between censoring and editing – and this distinction is sometimes
forgotten. Editors must edit and not be afraid to do it.


In short, I am saying that, as journalists, we have to sharpen our tools for battle. And we do this by ensuring we are
playing our proper role and meeting our obligations under democracy to cover fully and intelligently what we need to
cover, to raise the level of national debate and promote public awareness and engagement.


If we don‟t, then our weapons are blunted for the fight to publish freely. And all the signs are clear: we need to sharpen
our weapons.




Discussion points, thematically arranged


Who confers freedom of expression and determines its limits and underpinning values?

   Whose values dominate and inform those of the media? The question has to be asked in a cultural context. Our
    values are very different and universal values are not necessarily shared by everyone. How can the media reflect
    this diversity? At the end of the day it is about what sells newspapers.

   The media operate in a certain environment and in the post-1994 environment there are certain values on which
    there is still no consensus, such as what the notion of a nation means. News is a construct created through a process
    of selection and alteration and it is doubtful whether it is even a reality. What you choose to select or how you alter
    it, is determined by your racial, ethnic, cultural and gender affiliation.

   In South Africa, the definition of news has been shaped by forces which have been with us for the past 350 years.
    As a result of apartheid and colonialism, the demographic majority has become a cultural minority. But in the post-
    apartheid period we have seen a convergence and divergence of values. In regard to certain constitutional issues
    and debates, the black cultural minority finds itself part of a differently configured majority, because certain values
    transcend divisions of race, ethnicity and culture.

   Have we as South Africans generally found a sense of space in the post-apartheid era? The whole issue of values is
    central to this debate and has been going on since the beginning of time. At a universal level, values throughout the
    world are being challenged and changed and in this respect the media have a great impact on their re-formulation.
    There is also a greater awareness of cultural and regional differences in values. For example, in South Africa there
    is the perennial question about whether Eurocentric values, which stem from Judeo-Christian values, are entirely
    appropriate in our society.

   The values which journalism has inherited are also highly questionable. The media play a role in creating or
    destroying values. Taking Iraq as an example, the media welcomed the Iraq war because it was newsworthy. Would
    we have been as aware of Iraq without CNN?

   The development of our constitution has been influenced by the development of the global culture over the past 60
    years. When we ask whose values are represented, we should also ask whether women‟s values or the values of


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    Notes from the Goedgedacht Forum Dialogue of 1 November 2008: Free Speech or Freedom of Press Run Amuck? The Role of the Media in a Democratic South Africa


    families or children are included. Our culture is in a transitional stage and experiencing the breakdown of
    patriarchal values, although women‟s perspectives are still often absent in the media.


   Very often the media think that because they are secular, they are neutral but they are not, because they approach
    life and journalism from a specific position. It is good that the debate has shifted from morality to values but even
    with values, the question is whose values, because often these values are culturally determined. Morality is also
    culture-dependent. Who determines what is right or wrong? The term „ethical‟ is preferable because it makes it
    easier to determine what causes harm or not.

   It is doubtful whether we have even embarked on the debate about whether all rights are equal or whether there is a
    hierarchy of rights. The right to life is an indicator of how discordant our values are.


    A constitutional context and the values of the constitution

         The question is: A constitution for which society and a media for which society? There are provisions of the
          constitution that many people do not understand, for cultural and religious reasons: Should they therefore have
          a right to demand its amendment?

         Although some aspects of the constitution might be unpopular, the purpose of the constitution is to try and
          elevate certain basic principles “above the vagaries of fashion and shifting public opinion”. The right to life is
          an example. In the light of repeated calls for the re-instatement of the death penalty, should the right to life still
          be seen as absolute and inviolable?

         This applies to the principle of freedom of speech as much as it does to the right to life, although the latter is
          almost absolute. In the USA, the right to freedom of speech enshrined in the First Amendment has been
          elevated above other rights, but in South Africa it is still a matter of maintaining a balance. There are a range
          of decisions which we as journalists and editors must make in order to achieve that delicate balance.

         We also need to take cognisance of public opinion because we need public opinion on our side.

         The constitution is vague and it will take 25 years or more of constitutional court rulings to clear up areas of
          uncertainty. People support the constitution to the extent that they agree with its values. For example the
          constitution protects the right to practise Satanism although most South Africans would not endorse this right.
          If it went to a referendum, the majority of South Africans would try to get that section of the constitution
          changed.

         With regard to the right to life, the constitution makes the re-introduction of the death penalty impossible. But
          who determines who has the right to take life or not?‟

         Although the Constitutional Court has to be embedded in society, when it comes to certain values, it must
          transcend society, and the same applies to the media.

         Democracy becomes substantive only to the extent that the majority defend and protect the rights of minorities.
          Those who oppose gay rights must be prepared to protect the rights of gays.

         Our society is at war over certain values. We have a constitution which says the right to life is sacrosanct and
          yet at the same time a deputy minister tells us to „shoot the bastards‟. As a cultural majority, we assume that,
          because our values are written into the constitution, they are the values of society, but they are not. We might
          never reach agreement on all values but we need to understand how majority decisions derive their legitimacy.

         The fundamentals which shaped journalism in the past have changed, the economics of journalism are shifting
          and we do not know where they are shifting to. Advertisers and readers have far more choices and the former
          are far more powerful while the latter are increasingly able to exercise those choices. It is important to have
          informed, educated and thoughtful journalists who understand the Constitutional Court and who, for example,
          can analyse and explain a complex judgement such as the Nicholson one, well and quickly.

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        Notes from the Goedgedacht Forum Dialogue of 1 November 2008: Free Speech or Freedom of Press Run Amuck? The Role of the Media in a Democratic South Africa




             An editor has a duty to introduce certain issues and debates into society, whether readers want to know about
              these or not, and journalists have a duty to inform the public. The readers of the Sunday Times for example, of
              whom 70 % are black, say they read the paper for information, while older, white readers read it for
              entertainment.

             The idea of a codified constitution is a western invention and represents western values. African societies
              traditionally have unwritten constitutions. In the light of what our former president recently said about
              Zimbabwe presenting an African problem that requires an African solution, what prevents our current
              president from wanting to do away with our constitution because it is not an African institution?

             The Constitutional Court has to be embedded in society but it must also transcend certain societal values and
              the same goes for the media.

             There have been huge changes in the way newspapers operate; the fundamentals of what shaped journalism
              100 years ago have disappeared and are being replaced. Journalism is in a crisis because the old paradigm is
              moribund.


        The relationship between editors and proprietors

             The question of values is connected to the relationship between editors and proprietors.

             There has been a marked change in the culture of newspapers over the past 50 or 60 years. In the fifties,
              newspapers established and maintained a robust culture of mutual respect between editors and management
              and there was a healthy respect for editorial independence. But then there was a change of ownership and soon
              the mission of newspapers changed from producing quality newspapers to that of selling space and news at a
              profit. Some newspapers also changed their culture and editors now had to report to management.
              Considerations of marketing and profit began to act as constraints on editorial independence.

             In terms of the culture of journalism, newspapers and the media are not in a much worse position today than
              they were before. During the apartheid era, editors took decisions which deferred to the strictures and dictates
              of the ruling regime. Post-1994, newspapers have not yet found their space in the new society or developed a
              sense of responsibility.

             After the Manto Tshabalala-Msimang story, there was a concerted effort by the Board and politicians to get the
              editor of the Sunday Times fired, but it failed. The editor of the Sunday Times has never made a decision
              which was imposed from outside the paper and on the contrary, has made many decisions in strong opposition
              to prevailing values. Commercial pressures do not affect front page stories although softer inside stories may
              perhaps be influenced by the polls of in-house researchers.


        The controversial Zapiro cartoon1

             The role of the cartoonist in society is that of the court jester. The media‟s function is not to tell people what to
              think but merely to get them talking.

             The Zapiro cartoon succeeded because it did what cartoons are meant to do – wave a flag and get people
              discussing. The discussion around the issue of rape is an example of how the media successfully got the debate
              going.

             Some participants found the cartoon offensive but at the same time recognised that there were many who did
              not. When it comes to the appropriateness of a cartoon such as Zapiro‟s, the timing and context are all-


1
    The cartoon, originally published in the Sunday Times, 7 September 2008, can be viewed on www.mg.co.za/zapiro/fullcartoon/2099.


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Notes from the Goedgedacht Forum Dialogue of 1 November 2008: Free Speech or Freedom of Press Run Amuck? The Role of the Media in a Democratic South Africa


      important. The cartoon might be far more offensive in a publication such as the Sunday Times or Daily Sun
      than in the Mail & Guardian.

     Most people understand the cartoon and that is why it was so powerful. There wasn‟t only one meaning
      attached to the cartoon – there were many – some intended and some not.

     Media content has a meaning in part, because it is attributed to it by readers. The question is how sensitive we
      are to the different meanings readers attribute to a story.


The relationship between newspapers and their readers

     This is as important as the relationship between editors and proprietors. Some readers boycotted the Sunday
      Times because David Bullard was not fired after his controversial column was published. American
      newspapers boycotted Reuters because the latter refused to use the term „terrorist‟ at the time of 9/11. It is not
      money but rather readers who determine what makes news, because editors respond to what gets read.

     If the internet grows, it will provide a tool to find out what people actually read and will help us design a paper
      that suits the audience.


The problem of non-reporting and under-reporting, especially in areas such as science and the environment.

     The under-reporting of science and environmental issues is largely due to the understandable preoccupation
      with the problem of pervasive poverty in South Africa.

     People in Government tend to think that everything they do is newsworthy and the environmental lobby is
      affected by the same disease. They talk down to the media, often in a self-righteous tone and that is one of the
      reasons the environmental lobby fails to get its message across.

     Sadly, there is a still a lack of curiosity in newsrooms. Recently, when one environmental group released a
      statement about the state of the environment, it was reported on page seven of one newspaper. Nowhere has it
      been reported that South Africa has allocated 98 % of its total water capacity and that a good percentage of our
      water supply is so contaminated that there is a danger that we will not be able to use it. This is one of the
      biggest stories at the moment; it is also bad news and would sell any newspaper, but we have a habit of
      focusing exclusively on poverty.

     There is also a profound ignorance about science and environmental issues. The Three Mile Island disaster
      shows the knee-jerk reaction when it comes to nuclear power; the public perception is that nuclear is bad. We
      have to aim more at the man in the street but that is not happening.

     How is it possible to get editors to take environmental issues more seriously, especially in a country where we
      are preoccupied with the problems of widespread poverty? The way to educate people about climate change is
      to start with local stories and to bring home its effect to the ordinary guy. Climate change is a serious scientific
      news story which cannot be left to the lobbyists to tell. There is considerable discussion about it in
      Government that is not getting through to the media.

     Government will release its Long-Term Mitigation Scenario Plan which is an incredibly important document
      and states that we have to quarter our carbon emissions in the next 20 years, but there has been hardly any
      mention of it and hardly any mention of how South Africa will prepare for the Copenhagen Summit next year.
      There has been virtually no mention of the National Sustainable Development Framework, which will
      influence all other policy making in this country.

     However one should not place all the responsibility on the media. The issue of water will make the media
      when there is leadership on the issue of water and climate change. The media is only one link in the chain.



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    Notes from the Goedgedacht Forum Dialogue of 1 November 2008: Free Speech or Freedom of Press Run Amuck? The Role of the Media in a Democratic South Africa



         Fortunately, these issues are gradually moving out of the green lobby and beginning to reach a wider audience.

         What is the ultimate responsibility of the media in addressing environmental issues? We have a choice: We can
          tell the story of a planet that is soon going to die or rather tell a story about what people can do to prevent
          disaster. It is also important to target Business because they are the ones with the resources.


    The under-reporting of good news

         Why does there not seem to be a place for good news in our newspapers? Readers are simply not interested in
          good news and that seems to determine how newspapers sell – in short, good news does not sell. Several media
          organisations and niche newspapers have tried to sell good news but to no avail. The question is: How do we
          get the media to buy into certain progressive values while still being able to sell newspapers? Around our
          dinner tables we speak only of bad news - and of course the media are to a large extent responsible for this.
          Are we not therefore flogging a dead horse in expecting the media to be any different to what it is?

         Good news newspapers do not take account of human nature and have very little chance of succeeding. News
          is what people want to read and they want to read bad news. You might therefore say that from a newspaper‟s
          perspective, good news is bad news and vice versa.

         But by contrast, there was a story in The Star recently about two motorists who collided with each other and
          got out of their vehicles and shook hands. That is admittedly unusual but is certainly good news.

         People are interested in compelling human interest stories. They read them and are inspired by them; and these
          stories make news. But if you present only good news, people will realise that it is not an accurate reflection
          of the real world. Responsible journalism should tell people things that are useful to them. Maybe what we
          should strive for in our reporting is a balance between good and bad news, but unfortunately the dictates of
          profit determine what news sells and make it unlikely that we will achieve that balance.


    Monitoring, self-regulation and media responsibility

   Monitoring and self-regulation happen at three levels. First there is the level of the Media Institute itself. For
    example, the Mail & Guardian has an ombudsman who receives all complaints and responds to them in a
    fortnightly column. There might be one or two other publications who do likewise but not many.

   In publications around the world (but not yet here) editors are using the web to interact with readers. The BBC runs
    a blog in which editors engage in conversations with their viewers. The New York Times chooses a reporter
    covering a big story and tells readers in advance that he or she will be available to answer questions.

   The next level is the industry Press Council or in the case of the broadcasting industry, the BCCSA (Broadcasting
    Complaints Commission of South Africa). The Press Council for the print industry has recently been beefed up,
    largely in response to calls for more regulation. As happened under the National Party government, every time the
    government threatens regulation, the industry ups its level of self-regulation. There has also been the recent
    appointment of a higher-profile ombudsman, who at times has ordered parties to make quite dramatic apologies,
    but decisions take a long time to be made.

   The third level is that of NGOs and outsiders, who monitor the media and its coverage of certain issues. At
    Polokwane the ANC resolved that the party investigate the setting up of a statutory media tribunal. This is a key
    area in ensuring monitoring and self-regulation.

   As the media, we have been extremely reluctant to examine ourselves. We are quick to criticise others for failing to
    examine themselves but we do the same.

   Who gets to determine the issues we monitor? We have a press code but all our structures are reactive and not
    proactive. At SANEF (The South African National Editors‟ Forum) there have been some initiatives in this


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    Notes from the Goedgedacht Forum Dialogue of 1 November 2008: Free Speech or Freedom of Press Run Amuck? The Role of the Media in a Democratic South Africa


    direction but often they fail to get off the ground. We need to be more willing to be frank about ourselves but
    instead we stand together like doctors. If we do not do this, we run the risk of having regulation imposed on us
    from outside.

   SANEF is the correct forum for such discussions but it struggles to get editors to attend as they are too busy. It also
    does not enjoy the confidence of the working journalist. Maybe the Press Council is the correct forum.


   There is a crying need for somebody to represent the interests of working journalists against senior management.
    Journalists do not have a voice and are suspicious of SANEF. Is there not a need for the revival of the journalists‟
    union? Not having a union is symptomatic of a deeper problem. A union would say to journalists that they are
    accountable, albeit in an informal sense.

   As for monitoring, the industry itself should be willing to set up some standard that could be monitored, if not
    enforced. Is there a genuine commitment to self-regulation in the media, or is self-regulation aimed merely at
    staving off external regulation, especially by the state? For any real change to occur, it has to be proactive and not
    just reactive.

   Have newspapers and journalists developed a sense of responsibility in the post-1994 period? Have those of us who
    operated in the apartheid era become so sensitised to the dangers of censorship and self-censorship that we are
    somewhat hesitant to do anything that might be perceived as self-censorship and are therefore reluctant to edit?

   What one looks for in editors and journalists is a willingness to buck the herd mentality and make independent
    decisions, as did the Mail & Guardian when it was established. Perhaps we have too many opinion columns not
    supported by fact or research and not enough analysis.


    The role of the press ombudsman

         How would the press ombudsman reconcile his mandate to monitor the quality of reporting with the role of
          adjudicating, if called on to do so?

         Could we call on civil society groups to form some ad hoc committee for the defence of media freedom? The
          committee could open a website and invite public participation. It could use the website to moderate
          comments. It would be formed on a voluntary basis and on the initiative of civil society.


    Limitations imposed by budgets


         The cutting of budgets rather than direct interference with editorial decisions has dictated what editors can or
          cannot write. Budget cutting has had an enormous impact on the quality of journalism. Newsrooms are under
          considerable financial strain, which inevitably lowers standards. For example, like several other newspapers,
          the Sunday Times does not have a crime reporter.

         Because deadlines are so tight, people tend to get an instant and superficial analysis in matters such as complex
          legal judgements.

         In the old days one would have a day or two in which to analyse judgements and get comment.


    The role of Government and the Promotion of Access to Information Amendment Bill


         Certain participants were part of a task group – COMTASK – that did a survey of how governments around the
          world disseminated information and presented a White Paper on its findings to Parliament. Of the 65


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Notes from the Goedgedacht Forum Dialogue of 1 November 2008: Free Speech or Freedom of Press Run Amuck? The Role of the Media in a Democratic South Africa


      recommendations COMTASK made, 64 were accepted but the GCIS (Government Communication and
      Information Service) does not seem to be disseminating this information. Is there any way we as the media can
      call them to book? As citizens and as the media, we certainly would like to demand that Government become
      better at communicating and disseminating information.

     The Promotion of Access to Information Act is critical and is intended to promote the flow of information, to
      empower citizens to access all kinds of information and to exercise their rights; it is imperfect but valuable.
      The Promotion of Access to Information Amendment Bill however, which has been shelved for the moment,
      defines what will be regarded as secret and its effect is devastating; it provides that „if someone places a brown
      envelope under one‟s door marked confidential, one has to take it straight to the police station or face going to
      jail‟; Under no circumstances may one publish it.

     It has been said that when Jacob Zuma comes to power, he will come down on the media like a ton of bricks.

     There is a strong possibility that the Zumarites will also introduce an Insult Law next year. We are one of the
      few African countries that do not have such a law, stating that you may not insult or demean the president.

     We have a right to know about the integrity of people who are our leaders. If they cannot manage their own
      lives or if their integrity is open to question, the public has a right to know and question how fit they are to
      hold office and make decisions that affect the people.

     If the government were to act in an authoritarian manner against the media, we would oppose it very strongly.
      The Film and Publications Amendment Bill nearly got through unnoticed and has been shelved for the
      moment. If these laws are passed, they will probably be tested in the Constitutional Court - a process that
      might take years. For the Constitutional Court to make a ruling on such a law, it would have to be an Act of
      Parliament.


The SABC

     One would have expected that the largest newsroom in the country - the SABC – would set the standard,
      because it should be the institution least motivated by profit and very clearly has a mandate to serve, but it has
      failed to do so. One would think that the SABC was obligated to give full and informed coverage of the
      Constitutional Court and set the standard. If it did so, it would raise the bar for all the other media. It has the
      mandate, the people and the resources, yet it is failing to fulfil its role.

     Political commentators are allowed to get away with murder and analysts are used as „primary definers‟ of
      news. In other words, a view is taken and one then seeks to lend credibility to that view by invoking the words
      of an analyst, as if he were the oracle.

     When TV cameras are allowed into the Appeal Court in Bloemfontein, e TV is more interested than the SABC.
      The SABC is also the only media institution that has been damaged by the internal battles in the ANC.



The effect of patriarchy on the reporting of women’s issues

     There is sometimes an inability to understand the concept of patriarchy and its effect on society. We have a
      very modern constitution which has been influenced by global development over the past 60 years. But in our
      media, women‟s perspectives are often absent. The issue of rape, for example, is linked to the loss of power in
      a patriarchal society.

     Attitudes about gender are sometimes outlandish; there is an inability to understand the concept of patriarchy,
      which results in the media‟s failure to unmask patriarchy and its effect on society.




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Notes from the Goedgedacht Forum Dialogue of 1 November 2008: Free Speech or Freedom of Press Run Amuck? The Role of the Media in a Democratic South Africa



Objectivity and bias

     Often the media think of themselves as neutral but they are not. They are part of a patriarchal society and the
      challenge for them is to try to be as professional as possible and to eschew emotionalism.

     One can look at press freedom at two levels. The first is to see press freedom as part of freedom of speech.
      That means for example that the ANC can set up a highly partisan newspaper and there is nothing wrong with
      that. It will still be regulated by the law of defamation and the constitution.

     But then there are journalists who say „we want to be respected by society as journalists and to be taken
      seriously‟. That is where self-regulation comes in and this is on a voluntary basis.

     Newspapers have a right to be partisan and biased, provided that they are open about it and do not pretend to
      be anything else. Sometimes bias is unconscious. The word „dissident‟ for example in relation to the recent
      defection from the ANC, is loaded with value judgements.

     The best discipline for us is that readers are sometimes more perceptive than editors. If a newspaper loses
      readers, it becomes nothing. That is a very important means of imposing self-discipline. As for the question of
      our credibility, after 9/11, Fox News gained credibility by being ignoble and jingoistic. There are times that the
      media gain credibility by doing bad things.

     It is to be welcomed that the focus had shifted from morality. The question of whose values inform the media
      is culturally determined.

     Perhaps the term “ethical” is preferable because it makes it easier to determine whether given conduct causes
      harm or not.


The impact of the Internet on the media

     The advent of the internet media has given the reader far more choice. If the web spreads, this will give us a
      tool with which to find out what people read so that we can design a newspaper that suits its audience.

     But many people still do not have access to a computer or cannot read, with the result that sensationalism sells
      more while more substantial stories are reserved for an educated elite. The provision of cheap internet access is
      one of the big gaps in Government policy although to remedy it would not cost as much as the Gautrain or a
      Corvette .The gap between South Africans‟ access to information and that of Joe the Plumber is widening
      because of this critical factor.

     A project that acts as a social networking platform is currently trying to harness the power of the cell phone,
      because even the ordinary man in Pofadder usually has access to one. If one joins the project, one is asked
      one‟s particular interests and directed to those areas of interest. The project currently has 22 000 members and
      provides basic, useful information to people who cannot find such information in the printed media or do not
      have a TV. (There are 40 million cell phones in the country at present).

The deterioration of journalism as a profession


     We need to reclaim the profession as a profession because we have lost our “pride in being a journalist”. That
      was stronger in the past because we were conducting a crusade against a well-defined enemy. There is also the
      patent lack of knowledge on the part of too many journalists who cover certain stories. The coverage of the
      Nicholson judgement is an example; too many journalists don‟t bother to acquire the basic information.




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    Notes from the Goedgedacht Forum Dialogue of 1 November 2008: Free Speech or Freedom of Press Run Amuck? The Role of the Media in a Democratic South Africa



    The demise of beat reporters


   We all know that, largely due to economic pressures, there are fewer beat reporters in our newsrooms. Beat
    reporters have built up experience, knowledge and contacts in a certain field and are expected to report
    authoritatively on that area of expertise. Once, every newspaper had a reporter on each of the courts whereas now
    one is lucky if one has one legal person.

   Coverage of the Constitutional Court is bitty and inadequate and climate change is another example.


    The role of the media

         The media are one of those actors that must enhance the democratic experience for citizens. That means not
          just the political experience but the arts, environmental and other issues as well.

         In some ways, the editor has a duty to introduce debate into society and even if people are ignorant, to inform
          them and raise their awareness. A survey has found that readers of the Sunday Times are approximately 70 %
          African and that they read the paper for its information value whereas white readers read it for entertainment.
          There needs to be the will to inform and the concern is that it may not be there.

         Maybe the introduction of e TV‟s new (24-hour) news channel will bring about a change, because it seems to
          be pushing boundaries in interesting ways. We have continuous issues with licensing and there seems to be no
          intent to sort out the issue.

    The role of tabloids

         It is very easy for us to dismiss newspapers like the Daily Sun and People as irrelevant but they are very
          important mirrors of where we are as a society. They might seem irrelevant, but in fact they tell us where we
          have lost our way, how some celebrities have begun to play quite an important leadership role and how even
          some movie stars are promoting causes like animal rights and the fight against climate change.

         One cannot put People and the Daily Sun in the same category. There is an important distinction. The Daily
          Sun does not cover celebrities but is filled with stories about ordinary township people battling with life. It also
          has pages of informative, practical information such as how to open a bank account or buy a second-hand car,
          but it does not cover politics.

    The role of radio

         Radio also has an important role to play, particularly for those who do not even have cell phones. A lot of
          people living in the rural areas will be radically affected by climate change and these people need critical
          information. The good, old-fashioned radio can play an important role in this regard.

         It is often forgotten that English is not the majority language in South Africa and that is where there is a big
          gap. Because 94 % of the population listen to radio, broadcasts in the other official languages is very
          important.

         But the quality of broadcasting is very average and one wonders what controls there are to monitor the quality
          of these broadcasts and the information they disseminate. Although there are theoretically about 200 radio
          stations, 94 of these are not able to broadcast at all and about 50 or 60 are imperilled because of a lack of skills.




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Notes from the Goedgedacht Forum Dialogue of 1 November 2008: Free Speech or Freedom of Press Run Amuck? The Role of the Media in a Democratic South Africa



The relationship between information and emotionalism


     Information and emotion are closely linked. If you do not touch people‟s hearts, you cannot sell information.
      Our knowledge and the way we acquire, analyse and retain it, is inextricably linked to our emotions.

     In Germany an Arctic bear in a zoo was turned into a national mascot and symbol and succeeded in generating
      a long debate about the melting of the ice caps in the North Pole and its effect on the habitat of bears.

     Yet at the same time, the challenge for journalism is to be as professional as possible and to avoid
      emotionalism.


Concluding discussion

     The media are but one of many actors and are not a disinterested party.

     They do not do what they do for altruistic reasons. Their goal is to pursue certain interests. That in itself is not
      bad, but what is, is the pretence that the media are a disinterested party.

     We need to be better informed about ownership of the media and the controls they exercise as well as matters
      such as the appointment of editors.

     What is very heartening is how the debate has moved from where it was last year and the degree to which
      environmental issues have been discussed today, whereas last year the environment was not even on the
      agenda. There is still a lot of room for the media to work in this area.

     Do the media operate in the public interest? Most of the time, they do. When they appear not to be doing so, it
      is often because opinion is divided, such as was the case with the disclosure of the Manto (Tshabalala-
      Msimang) medical records.

     There are times, however, when one doubts whether the media are acting in the public interest. This debate
      cannot be answered one way or another. An important enquiry is who determines what is in the public interest.
      Is it the ruling party? The media?

     The media is entitled to pursue an agenda as long as this is an editorial agenda and is not one influenced by
      other considerations.

     The debate should not be only about developing a free press but also a responsible press, particularly in the
      context of under-reporting. The question that then arises is who determines what is responsible or not.

     One can look at press freedom at two levels: The most basic level is that press freedom is part of freedom of
      speech. The ANC can set up a highly partisan newspaper or propaganda sheet and there is nothing wrong with
      that in terms of freedom of speech.

     At that level they are regulated by the constitution and the Law, such as the law of defamation. But if they try
      to enforce any other standards on the press, they will be infringing people‟s freedom of speech.

     The second level is a higher level over and above that: here journalists say that they want to be respected and
      taken seriously. That is where self-regulation comes in and that is on a voluntary basis.

     Freedom of speech is expressly enshrined as a right in the constitution.

     There is a fear about the kind of draconian anti-press laws that a Zuma administration might introduce. For that
      reason the suggestion of introducing some kind of self-regulatory body is crucial.



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Notes from the Goedgedacht Forum Dialogue of 1 November 2008: Free Speech or Freedom of Press Run Amuck? The Role of the Media in a Democratic South Africa



     It is hoped that the environmental debate will gain momentum.

     The best discipline and regulation of the industry lies in the power of readers. Some readers are more
      perceptive than some editors. If a paper loses readers it becomes nothing and that threat acts as a very strict
      motivation for self-discipline and a motivation to report in such a way as to command credibility.

     As for credibility, after 9/11, Fox News gained a lot of popularity by being ignoble, jingoistic and selective in
      how they were telling the story. There are times when the media will gain credibility by doing bad things.

     On environmental issues, when the media do decide to commit themselves to writing the story properly, they
      must do so in a balanced manner. One can tell the story of a planet that is soon going to die or one can tell
      people what they can do to prevent it from happening.

     The media are a very important part of that process of shaping and forming our ideas. And therefore the
      responsibility that goes with it is profound.

     We should be asking how important our awareness of the impact of the media is. Is part of the responsibility of
      editors not to also understand the power of the written word? Once the written word is available, it changes
      brain structures and the way we think in a deep way.

     We have to be a lot more frank in our self-criticism. In the past our pride derived from the fact that we were
      conducting a crusade against the enemy – apartheid – whereas now the enemy is more insidious.

     No one becomes a journalist because he wants to be liked. We will never be ranked up there with doctors nor
      even with lawyers. But we must take pride in our role as a watchdog for society, reporting what people need to
      know in the public interest. We need to reclaim our profession and to once again take pride in being
      journalists.




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