Sanef against registering journalists
Cape Town - The South African National Editors' Forum on Wednesday objected to a call from MPs to have their profession legally defined in order for members to be exempted from the provisions of the protection of personal information bill on the grounds that this would require registration of the media.
Sanef stalwart Raymond Louw argued that registering journalists opened members of the profession to the threat of being deregistered, possibly for political reasons by a censorious government.
"Placing journalists on a register immediately poses the danger that as easily as they can be placed on a register they can be removed from such a register and thus prevented from practising as journalists which would constitute censorship and would certainly contravene the Constitution."
'No stopping' bill going ahead
Sanef was briefing members of Parliament's portfolio committee on justice drafting the bill, which it opposes.
The media forum argues that the legislation is unnecessary as the common law already affords protection to privacy rights, and would infringe on media freedom.
ANC MP John Jeffrey countered that there was no stopping the bill and that its primary aim was not to curtail the media, who had to decide whether or not it wished to be exempted.
Democratic Alliance MP Dene Smuts suggested that Sanef was shooting itself in the foot by refusing an exemption.
"I can't help you if you come here and argue against your interests," Smuts said, before suggesting that the media settle for a definition drafted by media lawyer Dario Milo.
The meeting devolved into a philosophical debate about the merits of defining the profession, with Inkatha Freedom Party MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini arguing that defining the media would pose the problem of deciding what constituted acceptable media.
Smuts's proposals for a definition erred by deciding that publications like The Guardian and the New York Times qualified while Wikileaks boss Julian Assange did not, because he failed the respectability test.
"I'm violently opposed to defining journalism. The perniciousness of beginning to define journalism is drawing a definition between good journalism and bad journalism."
Steve Swart from the African Christian Democratic Party said Sanef was being hypocritical because it had called for special status for the media in terms of a number of laws, including the contentious protection of information bill, where it wanted a public interest defence to protect journalists.
Sanef chairperson Mondli Makhanya said the forum was misunderstood in that it did not object to an exemption per se, but believed this could be done by updating the code of the Press Council to cover conduct that would breach the law.
"We will then apply for an exemption on the basis that it will be dealt with by the Press Council," he said.