The SA National Editors' Forum has expresswed "deep concern" about the possibility of political office bearers and government officials owning a part of the independent media, according to a statement by the organisation.

The Sanef statement reads:

A council meeting of the SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) in Durban today dealt with current media issues, including newspaper ownership, media laws and self-regulation.

Sanef expressed deep concern about the possibility of political office bearers and civil servants acquiring interests in independent media.

Recent moves in this direction include:

The bid by Koni Media Holdings to buy control of Johncom, which owns the Sunday Times, the Sowetan and part of Business Day among other titles. Two senior state employees, Ronnie Mamoepa and Titus Mafolo, are involved in this bid.
The recent purchase of a Johncom stake by Tokyo Sexwale, an aspirant ANC presidential candidate.
Reported interest in other media assets by senior office-bearers of political parties.
The bid by Koni Media Holdings is of particular concern given that it takes place amid serious tensions between the government and the country’s largest weekend newspaper, the Sunday Times.

While Sanef recognises that there is nothing in law preventing such activity, we believe that the potential for direct political influence over the media is unhealthy for democracy.

It is also undesirable because of the conflict of interest when a newspaper’s owners must choose between serving the public’s right to know and pressure to serve government or a political party.

Sanef welcomes the comment by government communications head Themba Maseko (on SAfm’s after-eight debate last week), that the issue of civil servants’ involvement in private media would need to be looked at by government.

Sanef remains concerned with the Film and Publications Amendment Bill under consideration by the National Council of Provinces. The revised draft law poses serious consequences for media freedom and the right of South Africans to receive information.

The media shares with government the fight against child pornography, but we believe the Bill in its current form is unconstitutional and will render the media dysfunctional. Sanef proposes that the law should not apply to publications that accept the Press Council’s code of conduct which already rules against child pornography.

Sanef committed itself to promoting the effectiveness of the Press Council and the Ombudsman and to supporting the body in promoting media self-regulation to both the public and the ANC. Internationally, self-regulation is accepted as the best mechanism in a democracy for improving journalistic ethics and professionalism while also upholding media independence.

Sanef is deeply concerned with the ruling party’s proposal for a possible “tribunal” into the media, and resolved to engage with the party about this ahead of the ANC’s December conference.

The forum welcomed government’s decision to put the sector training body, Mappp-Seta, under administration, and urges a swift resolution of problems within the organisation.

 Sanef also resolved to engage with the Local Organising Committee of Fifa about coverage rights for the 2010 world cup which could infringe on the media’s rights to report freely on the event.

 Expressing unhappiness with a recent public attack by the CEO of the SABC at a time when Sanef is in talks with the broadcaster, the forum decided to take the matter up with the SABC board.

Issued by: SA National Editors' Forum (SANEF)

For further comment please contact:

Henry Jeffreys – SANEF Deputy Chairperson: 021 406 2812 / 082 556 8883 / 073 257 3688
Raymond Louw – SANEF Media Freedom Committee Chairperson: 011 646 8790 / 082 446 5155