Friday, January 22, 2021

The Media Practitioners Act has polarized Gov’t / Media relations

I cannot really understand why our government is hanging on to the Media Practitioners Act. It is so unworkable I can bet my last Thebe our private media houses have through their lawyers figured this out. The definition of media practitioner is so wide ranging that it needs the very people who oppose it to agree that it really means only them and no one else for it to work. Now show me someone who is that stupid. What idiot would narrow a definition in order to subject himself to a restraint that affects his livelihood?

Our private media houses know that for so long as the definition of media practitioner is so wide they are protected by the principle of equality before the law. No court would entertain a situation where a person or institution is subjected to treatment that discriminates in the manner that would have to happen to make the Media Practitioner’s Act work.

Our private media houses also know that for so long as the government hangs onto the Act it is a cash cow. All they need do is couch their reports in a way that suggests that our government is anti-private media and that will sell their papers.

Link the media law to a government headed by a former soldier and you have a recipe for printing money. In fact chances are by the time government lets go of the Act our media houses will have built up a war chest based on governments desire to hang onto this law.
Of greater concern to me though is the fact that for so long as our government hangs onto this law, private media houses will adopt a posture that is anti-government and in the process lead to a lower calibre of debate in our politics.

As things stand because of the adversarial posture of government and the media our private press has effectively taken the side of those who promise it more freedom. Normally the media houses would seek guarantees for such promises but as things stand there is no need. They and our government’s opponents have identified a common enemy, the details they will sort out later when the common enemy is defeated.

Our private media has no interest in interrogating the stand of those who are opposed to government for such will weaken the resolve of such opponents and strengthen the very government that they believe threatens their freedom. Further having allowed freedom of expression as far as has happened in recent times it is almost impossible to reign this back. This is the nature of freedom of expression any attempt to reign it back will come out as repression. Some really nasty things have been said about our rulers and they have not seen it fit to take anyone to court to test the limits. It is therefore assumed that the law allows such things to be said. There can be no going back.

When you couple this law with some apprehension about the DIS that some people are complaining about you see that perhaps our government is holding onto too much that it does not need. It is relatively easy to justify the existence of an intelligence service. One wonders why if we have an intelligence service we cannot relax the restraint on freedom of expression. Surely freedom of expression can only be a threat if such threat is to national security, at any other level it need not concern the state as there are already processes and institutions that secure private interests. Surely a professional and well resourced intelligence service can pick up threats emanating from enjoyment of freedom of expression.

The alleged cell phone conversation tapping by the intelligence services also aggravates the damage done by the Media Practitioner’s Act. It comes out as if our government wants to hear what we say to each other and at the same time to prevent sharing of information. I do not believe that our government cannot explain cell phone tapping under certain circumstances. In my view it would be relatively easy to explain that such tapping can be carried out lawfully but when the same government comes across as if it wants to limit exchange of ideas it becomes difficult to do so. The combined effect of the Media Practitioner’s Act and the DIS is negative.

The lack of a freedom of information law also aggravates the situation. The way it comes out is that we have a government that wants to control media outlets and thereby freedom of expression, a government that wants to listen to what people say and also wants to deny people information. This is a recipe for a public relations disaster. The timing of the convergence of these is also very bad for public relations. In my view the only way to minimize this public relations conundrum is to let go of the Media Practitioner’s Act. Our government does not really need it. It has enough instruments at its disposal if there was any interest to protect.

Our government must understand that the motive for the existence of the various laws is not the issue. What matters now is their combined effect, whether actual or imagined. The way things are coming out cannot be deemed to be in our national interest. This is because the party largely responsible for these laws, government, is asking us to trust it. Now if you do not trust me to be able to choose between right and wrong why should I trust you? This is because at the heart of laws that protect individuals is the belief that there is a reasonable man, whose standard we are all expected to uphold.

When a government legislates it must sometimes bear this in mind for it does not, it will overlook people’s ability to make linkages between otherwise separate pieces of legislation.
It has also been held by our courts in interpreting statues that it is assumed that when parliament legislates it knows what the courts have already decided on a particular issue. Our courts have already applied the standard of a reasonable man in cases of freedom of expression. Introduction of a professional standard in enjoyment of freedom of expression adds to the standard of a reasonable man, yet we have not been given a reason why private individuals like myself have to now uphold a higher standard than that of a reasonable man in enjoyment of freedom of expression.

What the Media Practitioner’s Act does is suggest that even if published information is allowed within the standard of a reasonable man it must also be professional. Given that the definition of media practitioner includes everyone this suggests that whenever we publish information it must meet the standard of a reasonable man and also be professional. This is highly irrational for by nature freedom of expression includes the right to publish rubbish. There is no way that anyone can talk of rubbish that is professional. Further the two concepts might under certain circumstances be contradictory.

On a visit to Serowe to check on some relatives we found two, both our cousins, who had a touch of flu. One was in his seventies and the other about 100 years old. The younger one then suggested that he was the one who was sick and that if the older one were a cow we would say “a re e apoleng letalo”, lets remove its skin. Now can someone please tell me a professional way of publishing this information?

The Media Practitioner’s Act may also create problems for government itself. During the presidential debate on Btv the Vice President argued that had we diversified our economy we would have been badly affected by the global meltdown. This may sound alright for a reasonable man that he is, but it is definitely not professional. But such a view was published. In my view such a view falls foul of the Media Practitioner’s Act. Further what happens if a media practitioner who also happens to be a public servant refuses to publish what he and his master agree is acceptable by a reasonable man standard but that the public servant knows to be unprofessional?

Our politicians also like to publish unprofessional statements. I remember that initially our government held and published the view that we were immune from the economic meltdown. Today all failure to finance development projects is blamed on the economic meltdown. When are we to test the professional criteria of these statements, at the time that they are published or after three months?

I once saw a documentary dealing with the difference between military surgeons and civilian doctors in dealing with wounds. The military doctors would cut out large chunks of flesh and this made civilian doctors look at them as butchers. The view changed when the civilian doctors started understanding that the primary concern of the military doctors was to save lives, followed by rehabilitation. The military doctors had a higher success rate of preserving life than the civilian doctors. I believe a similar situation applies to freedom of expression. In the case of freedom of expression the civilian doctors are our government whilst the press are the military doctors. The government may see the press as butchers but they preserve space for exchange of views, a situation that is important for the advancement of any society.

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