Zuma calls for media debate
Cape Town - President Jacob Zuma has slammed "negativity and defeatism" by the media, demanding that the role, ownership and motives of the press be examined.
Using an ANC Today newsletter to weigh in on the furore over a perceived clampdown on media freedom, Zuma said this right could not be allowed to enjoy greater protection than others enshrined in the Constitution.
"The print media, like other institutions, cannot be viewed to be above the Constitution.
“We must remember that no right is absolute in terms of our Bill of Rights."
Zuma said he was "astounded" by the opinions voiced by the media about the Protection of Information Bill and the ANC's proposal for a media appeals tribunal.
The real debate should focus on whether the media was playing a constructive role in society, and was adequately qualified to judge the government's performance.
"The media must seriously conduct an introspection and open a constructive debate about the role of this institution in a post-apartheid South Africa," Zuma said.
"Is the media a mirror of South African society? Is it in touch with what the majority of South Africans feel and think?
"Why was it surprised by the explosion of national pride during the Soccer World Cup tournament? Why did South Africans decide to rise above the daily diet of negativity and defeatism that they are fed in the media?
"What is the impact of ownership on content and staffing? What is the ideological outlook of the media? Is there an alienation with the post-apartheid democratic order and thinking? Are we on the same wavelength regarding where South Africa should go politically, socially and economically?
"Do the media understand this well enough to articulate it to South Africans, to enable to accurately judge government action and performance?"
Make a profit
Zuma said it should be kept in mind that the media was essentially a business, driven by profit, and implied that it was promoting political and commercial interests.
"Is it a spectator, or does it have vested interests and an agenda, political and commercial, that it cherishes and promotes?" he asked.
"The media is a business enterprise. Its primary issue is to make a profit. The media products must make money and be commercially viable.
"Press freedom and the like are noble principles, but we all know that what drives the media is money, like all businesses."
He asked whether this meant editors are under such pressure to sell papers that they are prepared to print "unchecked and unverified smears in order to boost sales and circulation".
Zuma dismissed the criticism of the ANC's proposal to set up a media appeals tribunal reporting to Parliament as hysterical, saying such a body was aimed at protecting all South Africans from media abuses.
"(It) is meant to protect South Africans, rich or poor, black or white, rural or urban.
"The ANC, as the leader in South African society, cannot fail in its duty to defend our Constitution and to protect and defend the rights of citizens."
The president rounded on commentators who had suggested that the tribunal and the proposed legislation would take South Africa back to the apartheid style repression of freedom of expression.
"To even suggest that the ANC and its government could have any similarities to the apartheid regime is not only preposterous, it is also disingenuous and an unbearable insult," he said.
"Arguments that the ANC wants to muzzle the print media is premised on a falsehood that the ruling party, the ANC, has no ethics, morals and values and that it does not want the media to expose some of its cadres when they are in trouble with the law, including corruption.
"All right-thinking and properly-informed people know that it is the ANC democratic government that has made it fashionable to fight corruption and even to talk about fighting corruption."