Newspaper editors have slammed SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s proposal that journalists carry licences to work in the industry. Speaking to VOC News on Friday, a group of journalists said it was a tactic to control information circulation within the journalistic profession. Last week, the South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) condemned the proposal, saying it was “at odds with freedom of speech which is enshrined in the Constitution”.
“I don’t see the point of licencing journalists. There are two reasons government licence journalists; firstly to protect the profession and to make it very hard for outsiders to come into the profession. The other reason where journalistic licencing is wanted is in authoritarian countries,” says Weekend Argus editor Chiara Carter.
She believes the idea is to eliminate and prevent third party views for government to control news. In South Africa’s democracy, media freedom has allowed for the easy flow of information.
“Information is everywhere. It is widely circulated and distributed on the internet, on your phone. You can access blogs and articles. So it is too late to licence journalists. It is a ridiculous notion,” says Carter.
Last Thursday, Motsoeneng proposed that journalists should have a licence to practice like those in the medical and legal profession.
“Journalists acting unprofessionally should be stripped of their licences. We need to do if we want to build South Africa,” Motsoeneng was quoted as saying.
SANEF condemned it by stating that only in dictatorships do government want to licence journalists.
“Governments licence to gain control of the gathering, circulation and distribution of information,” says SANEF.
There are mechanisms in place to protect journalists without licencing. When going into a story journalists are protected, says Muslim Views editor Farid Sayed.
“The licensing of journalists is something that one as a journalist fears because it implies a degree of control. It will have a negative impact on journalists,” says Sayed.
He adds: “I am critical of the proposal as SANEF, but I do not understand why Motsoeneng says they are not doing their job properly because of a critique. They might be wrong.”
He believed this could endanger the lives of journalists. VOC (Nailah Cornelissen)