In response to a media monitoring tender put out by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) for the appointment of a service provider to monitor the media, Shenilla Mohamed, Executive Director of Amnesty International South Africa, said:
“While it is not unusual for an organisation to monitor the media related to its work, however, the wording and tone of the DMRE’s tender is concerning. Phrases like; ‘an early warning system’ for ‘incoming media-launched attacks on the department’, and ‘negative commentary’ gives the impression that the DMRE is setting up a war room against the media.
“The tender document implies that the media will be under close surveillance to the extent that the names of journalists will be collected, with the tender outlining that the ‘top 10 journalists for the month should be indicated in a graph which will include information on: frequency, tone, the journalist’s name and Net Effect’. Net effect being the final result or ‘effect’ of the journalist’s work.
“This raises the risk of intimidation and editorial interference, all of which go against Section 16 of the Constitution that states that everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including freedom of the press and other media.
“Such language is worrying in an already shrinking media space where journalists in South Africa are the targets of attacks and harassment, both physical and online. There have been at least 59 separate incidents over the past five years where journalists working in the field have been assaulted or verbally or physically harassed, preventing them from doing their work.
“People died in the struggle for these freedoms and South Africa must protect and safeguard these rights. Journalists continue to play a critical role in exposing corruption and other malfeasances in the country, and they must be allowed to play their role as the watchdogs of society without fear of harassment or intimidation.
“Interestingly in our engagements with officials from the DMRE around the rights violations by mining companies of the communities who live around the mines, they often state that they do not have the resources to monitor the social labour plans (SLPs) of mining operations, which they are legally obligated to do. But they seem to have resources for a media monitoring system? The DMRE must first fulfil its mandate to uphold the human rights of mining communities across South Africa. It would not need to be nervous of the media if it just fulfilled its obligations openly and transparently.
“We call on the DMRE to reconsider this tender. We cannot have a situation where Government departments are openly and deliberately violating the right to freedom of expression and a free press.”
Amnesty International South Africa published Unearthing the Truth: How the Mines Failed Communities in the Sekhukhune Region of South Africa in February 2022, which captures research into three mining companies operating in the Sekhukhune area of Limpopo and the experiences of local mining-affected communities. This research was undertaken by a team from Sekhukhune Combined Mining Affected Communities, the Centre for Applied Legal Studies and Amnesty International South Africa, and one of the findings was that the DMRE was failing in its legal obligation to hold mining companies to account on their SLPs.
On 31 March 2022, Amnesty International South Africa made a joint submission together with partners, namely Campaign for Free Expression, Committee to Protect Journalists, Media Monitoring Africa, and the South African National Editors’ Forum, for the 41st Session of the Universal Periodic Review Working Group, which took place in November 2022. The submission focused on South Africa’s compliance with international human rights obligations related to freedom of opinion and expression, and on progress made since the last review in 2017.
For more information or to request an interview, please contact:
Mienke Mari Steytler, Media and Communications Officer (Maternity Cover), Amnesty International South Africa: +27 (0) 64 890 9224; firstname.lastname@example.org
Amnesty International South Africa office, 97 Oxford Road, Saxonwold, Johannesburg, 2196