The Democratic Alliance has rejected yesterday's decision by the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications to instruct the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) and its Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) to draw up a print media charter.
Committee chairperson Eric Kholwane, in a surprise announcement at the end of a day-long media indaba in Sandton, said that the two government entities should liaise with Print Media South Africa (PMSA) in drafting the charter.
The charter concerns transformation of the print media.
PMSA is a voluntary association of print media publishers. It presented its idea of a Print Media Transformation Council to the indaba because it felt that a charter was unworkable in this sector.
The prepared statement that Mr Kholwane read at the close of a day of hearings from a diverse range of companies and organisations was a total surprise to the non-ANC members of the portfolio committee.
The committee had not met to discuss the day's proceedings, nor had sight of Mr Kholwane's document, which was read to the gathering as a committee decision at the close of the hearings.
The DA immediately lodged its objection to the ANC's unilateral decision to draft a print media charter, and was supported by the Inkhatha Freedom Party. The ANC's decision was then put to the vote in front of the indaba and the ANC won by six votes to three.
It was obvious to me that this decision was made at the ANC members' study group meeting the night before the indaba, as all its members and the chair were present for the indaba's proceedings yesterday. The chair did not leave the indaba for long enough to have written a statement of that length.
This decision appeared to have been made before the committee heard the PMSA's presentation, which included a considered explanation by its legal adviser on the unworkability of a charter in the sector.
The non-ANC members of the committee have still not received a copy of the chairperson's statement instructing the drafting of the charter.
The Portfolio Committee is currently conducting oversight and the decision voted on is not only problematic, but also highly irregular.
Indeed, the committee has no authority to put any recommendations or decisions to a vote until these recommendations have been raised, discussed and tabled in Parliament.
I will be writing to the Chairperson requesting that the unilateral decision be invalidated and that due process be followed.
The DA is opposed to any attempt by government to regulate the media - print or otherwise. Self-regulation, vigorous competition, and journalistic professionalism will ensure that the media accurately serve and reflect the diversity of South Africans and their issues and do not favour vested interests.
The haste with which Chairperson Kholwane pushed through this decision indicates that there may well be pressure from within the ANC to have this delivered in time for the ANC's upcoming policy conference.
This decision must be seen in the context of the resolutions taken at the ANC's Polokwane conference, and the party's consistent attempts to see the free media regulated.
Marian Shinn, Shadow Minister of Communications