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Johannesburg - The comments by SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande relating to an insult law protecting President Jacob Zuma are “startling”, the SA National Editors' Forum (Sanef) said on Tuesday.
“Nzimande has ignored the strong opposition by journalists, lawyers and freedom of expression activists to such a law because of the censorship it promotes and the dangers it holds out for journalists,” the forum said in a statement.
“In many countries in Africa journalists are frequently jailed under this law after having criticised the head of state or other high ranking politicians or officials.”
Sanef said the law was being used as a pretext to suppress opposition voices in the media and civil society.
Last week Monday, Nzimande backed a call made by his party in KwaZulu-Natal for a law to protect Zuma against insults, which he said were attacks that were “unfair, and lacking in fact and truth”.
Sanef said Nzimande had ignored the Declaration of Table Mountain, which was adopted on 3 June 2007.
Through this declaration, the World Association of Newspapers and the World Editors' Forum called for the scrapping of insult and criminal defamation laws throughout Africa.
Publishers believed Africa needed a strong, free and independent press to act as a watchdog over public institutions.
“Even worse he [Nzimande] has ignored the October 12 launching of a continent-wide campaign against insult law and the law of criminal defamation by the African Union's Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression in Africa...” it said.
“The law is widely used in Africa and has resulted in many journalists spending lengthy periods in jail and the closure of media outlets.”
Sanef was satisfied that structures of the African National Congress had not backed Nzimande's call.
“We are confident that the party will be guided by a commitment to constitutional principles and will thus not entertain Nzimande's call.” The Congress of SA Trade Unions said the law would not be fair.
“Every individual has the right to dignity and to be treated with respect, and that must be safe-guarded... but you cannot have a law which only applies to one person and not others,” Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven said last week.