"The South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) condemns the proposal by SABC acting chief operations officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng that journalists have a licence to practice like doctors and lawyers. His statement - made at the annual Radio Days conference at Witwatersrand University on July 3 - reveals his ignorance of journalistic practice in a democracy.
"It is unfortunate that the remarks come from a high-ranking official of public broadcaster, one of the biggest media houses in the country. The proposal is at odds with the freedom of speech that is enshrined in the Constitution.
"Motsoeneng said journalists who acted unprofessionally should be stripped of their licences. That part of his proposal is exactly the reason why the media in democracies reject it. In many dictatorships and authoritarian countries, journalists are forced to register and obtain licences to work. These governments do this so that they can control the gathering and publication of news by journalists.
"In such countries, publication of stories which disclose official misconduct, abuse of power, corruption, cronyism and nepotism would be described as unprofessional or harmful to the state and the licence of the journalists writing them would be withdrawn. It is because a licence would be used as the tool of the authorities that journalists in democracies reject registration.
Sanef says "Motsoeneng has already demonstrated his ignorance of journalistic practice and principle by trying to prescribe to SABC journalists to broadcast 70% 'good news' about the government with 30% relegated for the so-called 'negative' news" and adds that the media have devised a system of regulation by an ombudsman and a retired High Court judge (as the head of the Press Council's Appeal panel) to deal with journalistic practice that offends against a professional code of conduct.
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