SANEF council resolutions on EFF threats to the media, the SABC's financial crisis, SANEF's inquiry into media ethics and the importance of media complaints bodies
24 November 2018
The South African National Editors' Forum (SANEF) held its last Council meeting for 2018 today. A number of resolutions were taken. Four particularly critical ones included resolutions to deal with EFF threats against journalists and the media, the financial crisis at the SABC, SANEF’s proposed inquiry into media ethics and a campaign to publicise media complaints bodies.
EFF THREATS AGAINST THE MEDIA
SANEF agreed at its meeting to urgently seek a meeting with the leadership of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). This follows threats made mainly to female journalists, by EFF leader Julius Malema and other EFF leaders on social media and at various political rallies. Earlier this week, Malema named several journalists and called on EFF supporters to “deal with them decisively”. Following his comments, we have seen some of the journalists physically accosted and abused on social media.
One journalist was verbally threatened outside the venue of the Zondo Commission, where Malema had made some of these threats. In another incident, a senior editor was accosted by three men who shouted her surname and mocked her while she was out shopping.
A series of steps will be urgently undertaken to stop unacceptable, inflammatory remarks by Malema and other EFF leaders. These incidents are just one example of a series of abusive comments and threats by politicians to journalists and cannot be tolerated.
There is a real danger as they filter beyond cyberspace and become physical threats. Criticism is part of democracy but hate speech and sexually abusive threats online and bullying are out of order and can endanger the lives of journalists. They also have a chilling effect in newsrooms, with specifically younger journalists feeling fearful and intimidated and thus withdrawing from critical reporting on politicians.
SANEF also urges editors to be vigilant and to engage actively with their reporters about any incidents of harassment and to support them if they need counselling or security. SANEF will also collate evidence of recent incidents and encourages newsrooms to do the same.
FINANCIAL CRISIS AT THE SABC
SANEF also noted the bleeding of cash under the reign of former COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng and the latest statements by the SABC board that they could reach day zero by March 2019, indicating they will not be able to pay salaries if there is no urgent intervention. As we welcome the new Communications Minister Ms Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, SANEF reiterates the fact that the SABC can not be allowed to collapse and government has a moral and public responsibility to financially rescue the public broadcaster.
SANEF thus urges government to rescue the SABC financially - whatever it takes. Of particular concern is the impact of retrenchments on editorial staff. SANEF once again calls that any cuts made should not compromise the SABC's public service function and language diversity - especially in regard to news gathering and current affairs ahead of our critical 2019 elections.
SANEF INQUIRY INTO MEDIA ETHICS
A further critical resolution taken was around the details of our proposed inquiry into media ethics. SANEF is working towards establishing an inquiry into claims regarding media capture and credibility. The intention is to launch this six-month inquiry by an independent panel headed by a retired judge in the first half of 2019.
It is proposed the inquiry will look at the ethical framework of good media practice and the claims of capture by political, corporate and other interests, including disinformation agents. The inquiry will rely on submissions from the public and interested parties, with public hearings also included. The aim is to make firm recommendations on media ethics, steps towards ensuring media credibility so South Africans know they can trust their media, whether that's commercial mainstream print, broadcast or online, the public broadcaster, the SABC, and other non-commercial media.
INFORMATION CAMPAIGN TO PUBLICISE THE WORK OF MEDIA COMPLAINTS BODIES
Finally, SANEF has decided to embark on an information campaign, on social media and other public platforms, to inform South Africans of their right to complain and get redress when they believe media reports have transgressed.
SANEF is appealing to everyone, including politicians, decision-makers and others in public life, to make use of the complaints systems that exist through the Press Council, Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) and Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA). We will be publicising that recourse is available, and an efficient means to address any concerns or complaints – rather than people taking to public platforms and social media to attack journalists and media houses individually.
Issued by Kate Skinner, SANEF Executive Director, 26 November 2018