Editors worried about NGC media rules
Johannesburg - Editors on Wednesday voiced concerns over restrictions placed on the media at the ANC's national general council in Durban last week.
"Sanef (SA National Editors Forum) notes that many of the sessions were conducted behind closed doors, preventing journalists from covering the meetings and mingling freely with delegates," it said in a statement.
"The conference meeting rooms were separated from the media centre by a lengthy walk and strict security check points, thereby restricting the media's coverage."
The forum recognised there would be closed sessions during the NGC, but, in line with the "new transparent and open South Africa", found these "excessive".
"This conduct confirms the worrying trend towards making South Africa a closed society."
'No unusual restrictions'
ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu rebuffed the criticism, saying he was not aware of any unusual media restrictions.
"At no conference of the ANC was the media allowed to attend closed sessions."
He conceded controls were stricter at the NGC, held at the Durban exhibition centre, with no "non-delegates" allowed into the facility during closed sessions, including guests and the media.
"There was stricter control of access, but not only of the media."
This was due to the ANC needing to "deal with and concentrate on" its priorities without any distractions.
"We wanted the NGC to concentrate on NGC business. I don't think the ANC tried to muzzle the media in any way," he said, adding that the media was briefed as key policy decisions were taken.
Journalists were also barred from conducting interviews at the entry points of the NGC venue as delegates entered or left. Marshals cleared them from the entrances, leaving them to do their work on the street.
Sanef expressed concern that some of the limitations imposed on the media did not extend to the national broadcaster, the SABC.
During a walkabout by President Jacob Zuma at a business exhibition at the venue, journalists were initially barred from entering, despite being invited to cover the event.
Once allowed in, they were surrounded by ANC marshals who repeatedly said "stay inside the police", in a bid to keep journalists and photographers from wandering off.
During the walkabout, Zuma's bodyguards and the police surrounded him, making it difficult for the large contingent of journalists, trailing behind dozens of photographers, to hear his interaction with business people.
On being barred from the NGC venue, Mthembu said the ANC did not want anyone to be hampered from doing their jobs.
"We wanted separation of delegates and the media so that no one interfered with anyone's space. It was nothing unusual. We didn't want the media space to be interfered with by anyone, including the delegates."
This was the reason journalists were placed in a "media village" completely outside of the facility.