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INDABA Newsletter | May 2011

Networking forum

Thank you very much to the CSIR for hosting the press club's networking forum on 25 May. The evening was particularly well attended by members, which made for great networking. The presentation by CSIR President and CEO Dr Sibusiso Sibisi was also most insightful. The club's next networking forum will be hosted by the Department of Water Affairs - date, time and venue to be announced.

Elections 2011 - the press club was there

The National Press Club held no less than five media briefings at the results centre of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) during the recent municipal elections.

The first briefing, with Chief Electoral Officer Pansy Tlakula, focused on the IEC's readiness for the election.

Other briefings held during the week of the election were with Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, the Democratic Alliance, the ANC, and COPE.

The club also held a briefing with Virginia Peterson, CEO of the South African Social Security Agency, on 26 May.

"Secrecy Bill" - quo vadis?

Herman Scholtz

With the 'Secrecy Bill' on the horizon, a non-cooperative government spokesperson at the helm of GCIS and the country's slipping position on world rankings of press freedom, South African journalists have a trump card that has consistently showed its worth.

Although this trump card of constitutional protection is not absolute and has to be weighed up against other constitutional rights, media freedom showed its muscle in a recent judgment of the North Gauteng High Court, granting access for journalists to the Eugéne Terre'Blanche murder trial where a minor is one of the accused.

In this case, the rights of the media locked horns with not only a statutory provision for in camera proceedings provided for in the new Child Justice Act, but also the mighty constitutional rights of children.

The Constitutional Court has stated on numerous occasions that the rights of a child are paramount when their interests are at stake.

But, as Judge Joseph Raulinga pointed out, not even these rights are exempt from limitation where competing rights such as media freedom are concerned.

The applicants - Media24, eTV and SANEF - argued that the media has to gain access to the trial in order to demystify several aspects of the murder of the notorious AWB leader.

It was, for example, reported that the murder may be connected to sexual abuse. The state initially charged the accused with crimen injuria for allegedly pulling down Terre'Blanche's pants and police Chief General Bheki Cele confirmed that semen was found on the scene, but the state later abandoned this charge.

Judge Raulinga noted that vulnerable witnesses and the minor accused must be protected from public disclosure, but also emphasised the importance of the public interest and the media's role and responsibilities in serving it.

In finding that the media should have access, Judge Raulinga emphasised that the media are agents for the public.

"There exists a tacit contract between the public and the media that the media are the ears of the public. In view of the fact that the media are the messengers, the public will always prevail over the media. However, the media should be allowed to carry out its mandate on behalf of the public.

"I have no doubt that the media have always carried out their mandate responsibly and in an accountable manner. We should also be mindful of the fact that, because the media are run and managed by human beings, there will always be some mistakes made - "to err is human". If they vacillate in the performance of their duties, their constitutional goals will be imperilled." Judge Raulinga also relied on a precedent set by the Constitutional Court to acknowledge the "undeniable importance" of the media in a democratic society.

Now that Cosatu and opposition parties have indicated that the Protection of Information Bill faces a Constitutional Court challenge if passed in its current form, the question remains - If media freedom and the public interest could trump the all-important rights of children, will the court find similar circumstances to warrant a limitation on state security legislation?

New members

The National Press Club welcomes the following new members and hopes to see them at club events soon: Farirayi Kahwemba - Leseding News, Richard Samunda - Leseding News, Levina Botha - Statistics South Africa, Mantshele Tau - Tau Ya Poka Communications, Vernicia Pillay - Business Connexion, Miranda Lusiba - Business Connexion, Jacques Theron - Ronrick Kommunikasie en Bemarking, Madeline Seidenstricker - US Embassy.

Photograph of the month


Helen Zille and Gwede Mantashe arm wrestle at the Results Operations Centre during the recent local elections, with press club chairman Yusuf Abramjee looking on. Photographer Etienne Creux, Pretoria News

Feedback

Please send any news, suggestions or information for this newsletter to Martin van Niekerk at the secretariat on martin@junxionpr.co.za,
+27 (0)12 804 5199. Visit the website at www.nationalpressclub.co.za.

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