Idea to ‘license’ journalists condemned

2014-07-12 00:00

CAPE TOWN — “It is an absurd idea to license journalists!” was the reaction of ANC NEC member and MP Pallo Jordan to the SABC COO’s plan.

Hlaudi Motsoeneng, around whose head a storm swirled this week over the irregular way he was appointed as chief operating officer, told government-leaning paper the New Age in an “exclusive interview” on Thursday, that he will propose to Communications Minister Faith Muthambi that journalists should be licensed in order to practise.

SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said the public broadcaster does not have an official position on the licensing of journalists, which is Motsoeneng’s personal opinion.

Muthambi, who confirmed Motsoeneng’s appointment on Tuesday, said on Thursday she also doesn’t have a policy, but would discuss the idea.

While it is unclear whether Motsoeneng has the power to insist on such a rule, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) indicated that they strongly oppose such a step.

Sue Valentine, the CPJ’s Africa co-ordinator, said it a worrying development, coming from someone who is in charge of so many journalists.

It is incompatible with democracy and there are other mechanisms to maintain journalists’ accountability, she said.

Phenyo Butale, CEO of the FXI, said the licensing of journalists would destroy press freedom.

“South Africa must be seen to uphold democracy in the region and the continent.”

SA Communist Party spokesperson Alex Mashilo said: “The SACP supports freedom of speech. That includes press freedom. Nothing must restrict these principles.”

Jordan, who wrote in an opinion piece for Business Day last week about the tension between what the public wants to know and what it needs to know, in the light of arrests of journalists in Egypt and the recent phone hacking court case in Britain, asked: “Why should journalists get licences? I am a journalist. I don’t have a licence!”

Meanwhile, a Facebook page supporting Motsoeneng has been set up. The page “Friends of Hlaudi Motsoeneng” was established on Wednesday and by yesterday afternoon had 10 members.

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