The SA National Editors Forum (Sanef) met President Thabo Mbeki and
members of his cabinet, and agreed to meet annually to discuss issues
affecting the media in the country, writes Bate Felix.

Meeting over the weekend in Pretoria for the first time in six years, both parties agreed to continue working at various levels to address issues touching the media.

A joint statement after the meeting said “while much progress had been made, there were areas requiring further attention as well as new issues arising in the context of a rapidly changing media environment and socio-economic transformation in the second decade of freedom”.

“It was a constructive meeting that dealt with issues the media has always wanted to raise,” said Raymond Louw, chairman of the SA Press Council.

Particular attention was given to the recent Film and Publications Amendment Bill. The media expressed continuing concern at the impact provisions of the bill would have on their work, despite the withdrawal of its most contentious aspects.

“Recognising that the national assembly had passed the Bill and that the executive could not withdraw it, the right of the media to lobby the National Council of Provinces and if necessary approach the Constitutional Court was noted,” the statement read.

Louw said two meetings would be held between both parties, one to look at legal issues around the bill and the other to look at its practical implementation,

Attention was also given to Section 205 of the Criminal Procedure Act, which makes it possible for journalists to be imprisoned if they refuse to disclose sources.

Despite meetings between Sanef and the justice ministry, media concerns remained. It was agreed that the media, the department of justice and constitutional development and GCIS should meet within a month.

Both parties also emphasised the importance of self-regulation and it was noted that the media are strengthening their codes of ethics and conduct.

Instances of inaccurate reporting and limited depth were raised by government and discussed.

“It was agreed that the credibility of the media as a source of reliable information is of vital importance to our society. The media will continue to take steps, including training and the application of their codes of ethics to minimise publication of inaccurate information,” the statement said.

For its part, government said it would continue strengthening its communication capacity to assist the media in ensuring accuracy and promoting depth of coverage.

“It was also agreed that there was a need for greater working interaction between government and media to facilitate increased coverage of government, particularly in Pretoria, and to deal with problems before they became critical,” the statement read.

Louw said the annual meeting was probably a good thing if only to make the relationship between the two easier.