Secrecy hinders democracy by blocking the public’s right to know. We all know this. This is why, in South Africa’s progressive constitution, there are safeguards for public interest information through freedom of expression, which includes the media. There are even measures to protect this, such as the Enhanced Access to Information Act of 2000.
The first people you would imagine getting to know would be judges, court officers, judges, and lawyers. However, many of them are the culprits who are driving journalists out of court with increasing frequency. Thus journalists cannot properly perform their functions as conduits of information – and analysis – to the public. As much as we have a strong and powerful judiciary that is known for its independence around the world, something strange is afoot as we see a pattern developing.
Journalists are denied voluntary access to court proceedings on false grounds because, for example, a witness (Zandy Kumalo, the sister of slain soccer hero Senzo Meyiwa’s partner, Kelly Kumalo) announces herself as a popular social media icon who needs privacy and protection from attention. Confusing, her wish was nonetheless granted.
Read more at The Daily Maverick: Appeal: Freedom of the Media acquitted in Zuma’s Special Prosecution ruling
Meanwhile, Kumalo is busy tweeting in court. Her desire for protection was later revoked. But every time media companies go to court after being fired, it costs a small fortune, not to mention time.
At one time there were one or two such cases of lack of access to court annually, when understandable protection was required for certain witnesses, whistleblowers and children. But now it’s like getting journalists fired on a weekly basis.
The media is often told that its access will be determined on a case-by-case basis. This cannot be true. Access should be the default and it should be the courts who are questioned as to why such decisions were made, playing with the public’s right to know. And it often concerns the stories of scammers.
Slaps and slaps
Deputy Chief Justice of the Gauteng High Court, Roland Sutherland, in a case ladybugs After being gagged from the publication of “My Death Files,” this week he overturned an order that had been earlier issued by another judge.
Moti pushed the court to silence publication of the files through an objection issued after only one side, in this case Moti’s lawyers, was heard in court.
ladybugs He then went to court to appeal the ban, arguing that whistleblower leaks were normal; It is often how journalists obtain information and then begin to corroborate it.
However, Moti’s group argued that the documents had been “stolen”.
Sutherland charged Moti’s group with punitive costs and recalled the case The most serious abuse of court proceedings.
There is a complete lack of understanding that, for democracy to flourish, the media must be the ears and eyes of the public and not be at the same time as the ANC.
during the appeal hearing, Banjan Attorney Stephen Budlinder said: “This is a typical slab [strategic litigation against public participation] A case aimed at intimidation and censorship.”
Clearly, the majority of the judiciary is slapping bullshit and standing up for media freedom or democracy.
two months ago, News 24 had won The Karen Maughan case, arguing that its reporting on Jacob Zuma’s medical condition, using documents that were already in the public domain, were all legal. This was also a typical slab case. Zuma was using the courts to intimidate and censor Mogan, but he lost the case, with the costs incurred.
Secrets and lies
When there are no facts and many contradictions, speculation grows and fake news spreads. Obviously, secrecy is detrimental to democracy.
We now have an investigation committee Mrs. R, the Russian ship that docked in Simon’s Town. An investigation of this is scary when the boss can surely get the information from a phone call. Even worse, the results will not be made public. This secrecy is inexplicable.
Personally, I’ve heard that Russians dump gas cylinders that they can no longer sell in Europe, to use in the winter. Others say South Africa was selling arms. Either or both explanations could be fake news. A press conference could have cleared up this disaster.
Another disaster shrouded in secrecy: the African Peace Mission in June. A South African Airways plane landed in Warsaw en route to Ukraine, but was then “quarantined”, with journalists “held up” for more than 24 hours.
So far, the government has not held a press conference to explain what happened. Journalists did what they do: they are wrote about their experiences. But the Minister in the Presidency of the Republic, Khumbudzo Ntshavini, instead of giving any explanation or apology, He shook her finger With these hateful words: “Maybe our lesson has been learned that maybe we shouldn’t take the media on these kinds of trips.” How threatening.
Until now, we do not know exactly why the plane was grounded, but it seems that the journalists were collateral damage in a geopolitical and administrative nightmare. And the presidency didn’t seem to understand the issues: the emotional trauma, the hunger, the cost of accommodation that the media companies had booked. And this speculation spreads if the facts are not available.
There is a complete lack of understanding that, for democracy to flourish, the media must be the ears and eyes of the public and not be at the same time as the ANC. ANC is not a media personification, or vice versa.
But the ANC believes it represents “the people” – all the people.
Media and Presidents of the South African African National Congress
The majority of South African presidents have had one foot in the ANC’s Stalinist past (which we witness today in the foreign policy vision) and the other foot in the democratic constitution. Nelson Mandela, at his first meeting with the editors in 1996, shrugged with his finger: “You’re not doing what we expect of you.”
This followed his more democratic words in 1994: “Critical, independent and investigative journalism is the lifeblood of any democracy. Journalism must be free from state interference.”
Thabo Mbeki wrote long messages to the public in “Letters from the President” in which he spoke of “enemies” and a lack of patriotism, especially the media.
Kgalema Motlanthe, the interim president for a short time, had little to say about the media. Zuma, the most active, sued the journalists and lost; He continues to litigate and lose.
Cyril Ramaphosa says all the right things about media freedom. Understands theory but ducks and dives press conferences.
World Press Freedom Index
The great irony is that South Africa jumped 10 places in World Press Freedom Index Released by Reporters Without Borders in May: From 35 in 2022 to 25 in 2023 from 180 countries.
One of the biggest indicators in media freedom research now is how the environment in which journalists operate enables them to do their jobs. These Slapp suits and creeping penchant for intimidation and secrecy may not have been recorded in the search for South Africa. But it’s 2024, also our election year, when journalists are targeted with messenger shooting syndrome and politicians don’t get what they want: pretty coverage.
In regards to the ongoing progress of access to the courts, the National Editors Forum of South Africa (Sanef) has had several friendly meetings on the issue with the Magistrates’ Commission over the past year or two, but it still persists. Research needs to be done to find out why this happens so frequently when the constitution is in the clear and the judges and magistrates don’t have a vested interest in cases, or so you’d imagine.
Is it ignorance of what the public interest and transparency mean? How can direct access through broadcasting help portray facts without an intermediary, listening from the horse’s mouth, so to speak?
Things are at an all-time low between journalists and the courts, and after the Warsaw airport drama, the presidency and the media, including office press conferences and dives.
Secrecy is the antithesis of transparency, which is intrinsic to democracy. That journalists constantly have to go down the legal route to get to court stories, or to be published, is a willful hindrance. It is also costly on the pockets of the media and democracy itself. DM
Glenda Daniels is Associate Professor of Media Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand and Gauteng in Saniff, but writes in a personal capacity.
This story first appeared in Our Weekly 168 newspaper, which is available nationwide for R29.