Event Reports

"It is a very important project"

by Markus Brauckmann

International Conference: Launching the KAS Media Law Handbook at the University of Pretoria

At the end of her successful presentation Justine Limpitlaw was taken aside by Arthur Chaskalson, the former Chief Justice of South Africa. “Very good; that is a very important project,” praised the prominent constitutional expert, referring to the regionally oriented Media Law Handbook created by the respected lawyer Limpitlaw in association with KAS Media Africa. “You should definitely keep working on this topic.”

The presentation took place on 3./4. August 2011 at the University of Pretoria as part of the international conference “African Constitutionalism and the Media,” which was sponsored by the Media Programme Sub-Sahara Africa.

For many years the topic of media law has been one of the cornerstones of the regional programme. The top Johannesburg-based lawyer, Justine Limpitlaw, is working together with the foundation on a Media Law Handbook for the SADC region. This work pursues two central issues. First it should inform journalists and media owners about the relevant legal framework in which they operate. Further, it should build a bridge between legal and media players, thus contributing to increased understanding on both sides. “Because we need lawyers and journalists in order to make a contribution to democratisation in the region through improved media laws,” says Markus Brauckmann, Director KAS Media Africa. Currently the first ten chapters of the book project are available online: http://www.kas.de/medien-afrika/en/publications/23503/.

Toward this end the regional programme worked closely in preparation for the conference with the newly founded Institute for International and Comparative Law at the University of Pretoria, the KAS Office South Africa as well as the Rule of Law Program in order to provide high-ranking international players from the fields of media and law a platform for communication and exchange. On the legal side, the following were some of the participants present in Pretoria: Andries Nel (Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development of South Africa), Benjamin Odoki (Chief Justice, Uganda), Professor Rainer Grote (Max Planck Institute, Heidelberg), Arthur Chaskalson (former Chief Justice of South Africa) and Wachira Maina (Constitutional Lawyer, Kenya). The media was represented, among others, by Gary Alfonso (head of the pan-African news broadcaster CNBC Africa), Amadou Mahtar Ba (CEO African Media Initiative, Kenya), the leading media scholar Guy Berger (Rhodes University, South Africa) as well as the prize-winning investigative journalist Mercedes Syagues who works primarily in Mozambique. The political aspect was covered by prominent guest Nana Akufo-Addo, the former Foreign Secretary of Ghana and a 2012 presidential candidate.

From the many first-rate panels and presentations, four topics which play a key role in the objectives of KAS Media Africa are selected for this report:

The conference was kicked off by Justine Limpitlaw with the above-mentioned presentation of the Media Law Handbook, followed by the online launch of the first chapter. Under the original title, “Constitutionalism Betrayed”, the lawyer first presented her thoughts regarding content. At the moment there are an increasing number of laws to deal with which are relevant for the media. Therefore, it is important to take these into account in one’s approach and to strive for a clear, comprehensible form of expression. The book project is divided into three introductory chapters, eleven country chapters and a final summary chapter. Seven country studies (South Africa, Swaziland, Namibia, Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana) are already available online, while the work on four more (Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Congo and Mozambique) is expected to be finished by the end of 2011.

Within the context of democratisation, Limpitlaw focuses on the question of a democratic media regulation. She draws mainly on three international sources as a benchmark. a) international organisations and their work in this field, for example, the UN, EU, etc.; b) international conventions which deal with these issues, such as the Windhoek Declaration and; c) relevant NGOs and their output, for instance the Johannesburg Principles. Based on these measures, the author then addresses the constitutional provisions, the regulation of print media and broadcasters, the censorship laws and the rules prohibiting engagement with the media. At the end of her presentation Limpitlaw outlined avenues for possible reform, for instance the creation of public broadcasting services or the enactment of media-friendly laws, all with the goal of strengthening journalists’ role as the watchdogs of a democratic society.

A concrete and impressive case study for legal reform was presented by the former Foreign Secretary of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo. During his term as Attorney General of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), he led a movement aimed at abolishing the criminal libel law, which strongly hampered journalists’ freedom of speech and led to a culture of silence. The law was repealed by parliament under Akufo-Addo’s leadership in 2001. According to Akufo-Addo, this change made a considerable contribution toward a vibrant media landscape in Ghana. He pointed out the exemplary impact of this reform for media legislation on the continent. At the same time the NPP leader warned that there are still laws and regulations that aim to protect the public, but which can be interpreted to the disadvantage of the media. His final message was to continue to defend the freedom of the press.

What does the arrival of the digital age mean for media law? This question was dealt with by Guy Berger from Rhodes University in South Africa. The internet has created a whole new dimension of challenges. After all, media laws in the constitution were made within the context of newspapers and broadcasters. Berger illustrated his point by means of a case study of the xenophobic attacks in South Africa in 2008. In that situation, the commentary exchanged on news websites online was faster, more polarising and more abundant than ever conceivable in the traditional media. How does one regulate such cases? With more control, more moderation or more responses? Berger describes this challenge as “enormous”, but warns against too restrictive an approach. A moderate change in attitude is needed rather than a legal amendment, is his conclusion.

The final round of discussions was grouped under the title, “Reality Check”. Leading media players were asked to outline how their work these days corresponds with the existing media laws. Gary Alfonso from CNBC Africa emphasized the need for unrestricted access to information and warned states against “regulated self-interest”. The journalist Mercedes Syagues, based in Mozambique, reported on killings within the realm of local investigative journalism. Her impressive presentation described the discrepancy between existing media laws and the sad reality. In closing, Amadou Mahtar Ba, from the KAS partner African Media Initiative (AMI), called for a stronger dialogue between media owners and relevant societal actors. The reputation of journalism on the continent has to be improved. His organisation is already working on appropriate principles, with a particular focus on the responsibility of the media owners.

After the conference, Markus Brauckmann summed it up from the perspective of KAS Media Africa: “We feel strongly encouraged in our efforts in the field of media law. Journalists need a reliable and fair framework in which they can operate. Otherwise it is difficult to contribute toward the necessary democratisation. We will continue to make this topic a focal point of our work in the coming years – with our reputable partner Justine Limpitlaw.” Erika de Wet from the University of Pretoria was pleased with the successful event: “We are all called upon to consider what the next steps could look like.”

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Contact Person

Christoph Plate

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Director Media Programme Subsahara Africa

christoph.plate@kas.de +27 11 214 29 00 +27 11 214 2913