I can’t do my job without an independent media – Madonsela

2012-02-02 08:33

As the Press Freedom Commission (PFC) wrapped up its last day of public hearings in Johannesburg, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela stepped forward to say that her role as an ombudsman that fights corruption and maladministration would be impossible without whistle-blowers, full access to information, and a free and independent media.

Madonsela entered the Braamfontein Recreation Centre, where the PFC was underway with its “Listening to SA” campaign yesterday without pomp or ceremony, and waited quietly until she was called to present her submission on how South Africa’s press should be regulated.

“The Public Protector is an ombudsman office. The ombudsman is part of a layer of oversight bodies that have been added to the modern democracy architecture. His/her role (it is a personalised jurisdiction) is to reinforce the checks and balances that seek to curb excesses in the exercise of state power and to protect the Rule of Law,” Madonsela told former chief justice Pius Langa, and a panel that included former marketing heavyweight Santie Botha; Professor Kwame Karikari, executive director of the Media Foundation for West Africa; the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Thabo Makgoba; and Futhi Mtoba, president of Business Unity South Africa.

“The ombudsman is a fundamentally important part of the network of accountability agencies that play a vital role in maintaining and promoting the integrity of government and the public service. Together the oversight bodies are often referred to as an integrity system.

The concept of integrity systems supports the notion that there is no single institution or oversight body that would be able to take the responsibility to instil the principles of integrity in public administration,” said Madonsela who explained that a free flow of information was essential to the right functioning of this integrity system which checks the abuse of power.

“Institutions such as the Public Protector rely extensively on the media and whistle-blowers to report issues of fraud, corruption, service delivery failures and other forms of maladministration within organs of state,” Madonsela said, adding: “Issues brought into the public sphere do not only serve as accountability mechanisms, but also serve as an early warning system to alert the state and its stakeholders about matters that have the potential to impact on its promises to the people or about matters that might derail its drive to fulfil its constitutional obligations.”

The Public Protector warned the state and its citizens that any unreasonable or disproportionate restrictions on the access or dissemination of information on corruption or the maladministration of the government would impact her office’s ability to do its job, which is to strengthen South Africa’s constitutional democracy.

“There is general consensus that a free and independent media is of fundamental significance for freedom of expression. There’s also general consensus that the proper functioning of democracy and civil society would be impossible without a free media and free flow of information,” Madonsela said.

The media has found a powerful ally in the Public Protector, despite Madonsela not having the easiest of relationships with the media. Last year the press was used as a vehicle to try and discredit Madonsela, in what appeared to be a smear campaign to get her removed from office.

The allegations came at a time when the Public Protector was investigating a building lease scandal involving suspended police chief Bheki Cele.

Madonsela stood up to the allegations made against her saying her office would not be bullied or distracted and that she’d never “stop speaking truth to power”.

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