The government came under a barrage of criticism yesterday for its
amendments to the Film and Publications Act which could substantially
limit media freedom — ironically the day before today’s celebration of
media freedom day, writes Wyndham Hartley in Business Day.

While the bill has already been the subject of last-minute intense discussions between media organisations and the government, it has been submitted to Parliament unchanged, with sections that will promote self-censorship in the media and also severely harm media operations.

Yesterday (May 2), when Parliament’s home affairs committee opened its public hearings on the Film and Publications Amendment Bill, organisations slammed the bill as offensive to constitutionally enshrined media freedom.

Under the guise of clamping down on child pornography, key clauses that exempt the news media from getting approval for the publication of certain material have been removed.

The Media Institute of SA (Misa), the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef), Print Media SA (the owners of newspapers), the Publishers’ Association of SA, the Magazine Publishers’ Association and the Media Monitoring Project said the removal of the exemptions for news media was unconstitutional, and called for them to be reinstated.

From the various submissions made to the committee it was clear that should the amendments be passed into law without any changes, a Constitutional Court challenge would be almost a certainty.

ANC committee chairman Patrick Chauke told the committee that there was no intention from either the cabinet or Parliament to limit media freedom, but took aim at the South African tabloid market.

He pointed specifically to the publication of pictures depicting the rape of children by drug dealers in a Cape tabloid. He asked how this could be allowed and how it could be controlled.

Chauke wanted to know how media organisations equated democracy with the way in which pornography was eroding that democracy daily. He said there was a need for the media to “demonstrate a commitment to nation building”.

Click here to read the full report, posted on Business Day's website.