South African’s National Liberation Movement

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Policy Documents

Response to subpoenas to editors of Sunday Times and Mail and Guardian

14 February 2000

The African National Congress was surprised by the response of the South African National Editors Forum to the South African Human Rights Commission`s subpoenas to the editors of the Sunday Times and Mail and Guardian to appear at the hearings into racism in the media next month.

The description of the subpoenas by Sanef Chairperson, Lakela Kaunda, as` a contravention of the fundamental freedom of the media clauses in the constitution`, is unfortunate in that it seems to follow the trend that seeks to interpret freedom of the media to mean practitioners in the industry are beyond reproach, and journalists and editors are no exception.In fact, it is an irony for editors, seen by the public as watchdogs over the rights of access to information,to appear reluctant to assist in facilitating the implementation of such a right.

While section 16 of the constitution guarantees freedom of press and the media, section 32(1)(b) of the same constitution states that everyone has the right of access to ” any information that is held by another person and that is required for the exercise or protection of any rights`.

Allegations of racism have been made against the Mail and Guardian and Sunday Times.And, of course, they remain allegations until they are either proved or the until they are either either proved or disproved.One would have expected the editors to jump at the opportunity the HRC offers them to respond to these serious allegations their papers.Rather than see it is a violation of their media freedom, they should have welcomedit as an opportunity to put the record straight.

Given the current topicality of the issue of racism, we would like to appeal to Sanef to encourage the two editors to honour the subpoenas and testify before the commission so that the matter can be to rest, once for all.

Issued by the Head of the Presidency:
Smuts Ngonyama
African National Congress