After a string of threats directed at the press, the eThekwini council has finally succeeded in keeping its reports away from the media and out of the public eye before they are debated by the council.
Agendas for the executive committee and portfolio committee meetings have been embargoed and will only to be released on the day of the meeting. This prevents the media from scrutinising the reports – which mainly deal with how ratepayers’ money is spent – before the meetings.
Raymond Louw, deputy chairman of the media freedom committee of the SA National Editors’ Forum, slammed the decision saying it was “unconstitutional” because it prevented the media from having access to information and knowing what went on in council before the meetings.
“This is unacceptable censorship and part of a growing clamp- down on information emanating from the government,” he said.
Opposition parties said the move was a desperate attempt to gag the media and have vowed to challenge the decision at the next executive committee meeting.
In recent months, the media has been told to leave the executive committee boardroom on numerous occasions, to allow the council to discuss reports. No substantial reasons have been put forward about why the reports were “confidential”.
Reports that were tabled behind closed doors included the Manase and Associates forensic report, the city’s organisational structure and an abridged version of a report by Strauss Daly Attorneys on aspects of the Manase report.
Minority Front councillor Patrick Pillay questioned what was so confidential on the agenda that reports should not be released before the meetings.
“It is absolutely unacceptable for the council to gag the media… The media plays a pivotal role in informing ratepayers on issues deliberated by the municipality,” he said.
“This is a blatant violation of the public’s access to information. I could understand if the reports on the agenda were highly confidential. This is absurd,” he said.
DA caucus leader Tex Collins said it was nothing but a “devious” plot by the ANC to keep information out of the public eye.
“This again goes to show the desperate situation the ANC and city manager [S’bu Sithole] find themselves in. They are afraid of the truth coming out. They are trying to keep things from the public, which is highly unacceptable and they will fail miserably,” he said.
Last night council spokesman Thabo Mofokeng did not respond to questions put to him about the embargo.