Fears against Media Appeals Tribunal are misplaced

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Fati Moalusi

I still have to find a convincing argument against the Media Appeals Tribunal (MAT), the ones that I find published in mass media are misplaced.

One example of the misplaced argument is that of the respectable Joe Thloloe, Director of the Press Council. In his speech during a gathering organised by Daily Maverick, he referred to the Media Appeals Tribunal (MAT) as a threat and attempts to justify his irrational fear by linking BLF’s media harassment to MAT. He went on and gave a pretence that MAT is an attack on section 16 of the Constitution of South Africa.

Section 16 stipulates that everyone has a right to freedom of expression, which includes:  freedom of the press and other media; (b) freedom to receive or impart information or ideas; freedom of artistic creativity; and (d) academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.

This section confers the right of freedom of expression to “everyone“ before conferring the right to the media. ‘Everyone’ in this case also includes those that are expressing their views against self-regulation of the media. This section explicitly only confers a right of freedom of expression to the media, it does not confer any right to self-regulate nor does it confer a right of unquestionable authority to the media.

Thloloe’s statement that arguing for MAT is an attack of section 16 is unfounded.
Another misplaced counter-argument against the establishment of MAT is that of Raymond Louw, Chairperson of the SA Press Council. Louw alleges that MAT as a statutory body will take away constitutional right of freedom of expression. I am not sure where Louw drew basis for his argument because all the other existing statutory regulatory bodies are not infringing on any constitutional rights.

Statutory regulatory bodies including the National Consumer Commission, Accounting Standards Board, and Health Professions Council of South Africa are proven to be effective in ensuring the protection of constitutional rights. If these non-self-regulatory bodies can guarantee and protect constitutional rights of the masses why does Louw conclude that MAT will fail to protect section16 purely on the basis of it being a statutory body?

Another of Louw’s fears is that the MAT will have to account to politicians in Parliament since its members will be appointed through parliamentary processes. Louw seems to conveniently have forgotten that independent institutions and regulatory bodies can be appointed through parliament but do not answer to parliament. ICASA and the IEC are both independent and only accountable to the constitution even though their heads are appointed through a parliamentary process.

MAT members can be appointed through a parliamentary process but only account to the constitution. Instead of engaging the argument of unbalanced reporting in the media brought by those that are calling for MAT, Thloloe and Louw decided to spread propaganda to cause panic.

I agree with Thloloe that the architecture of the board of the Press Council meets a reasonable standard to qualify it as an independent board, but the board’s independence has not satisfied a need for balanced reporting. Media generally presents black people in a bad light, unlike their white counterparts.

This is not only a perception as some media personalities believe, but it is also a reality for a lot of our people. One example of this reality is the obsession of the media with finding out who funds the ANC and the EFF but not who funds the DA.

It is bizarre that after the discovery of the Gupta’s funding, the media never pressed hard to uncover if there are more questionable DA funders. The DA has admitted that its funders are doing business with the state, it is likely that the same questionable people reported to be funding ANC could be funding the DA, as was the case with Guptas.

It is the half-truth reporting that is of concern to those that are pro MAT. Wikipedia describes half-truth as “purpose or consequence is to make something that is only a belief appear to be knowledge or a truthful statement to represent the whole truth, or possibly lead to a false conclusion”.

MAT is not an alternative to section 16, instead its a mechanism seeking to strengthen the right to impart or receive true information as guaranteed in section16 of our Constitution.