'Media must benefit society'

Mary Papayya

Mary Papayya

South African Chief Justice Pius Langa yesterday cautioned that while the country had left behind "the evils of apartheid" there was still much to be done in building democracy.

He said while the groundwork had been laid for our democracy and the Constitution aimed at guarding freedom and equality, it was up to the media and judiciary to ensure that the government functions in an "accountable, open and honest manner" and made every effort to "treat each and every South African with respect".

"It is up to the media and the judiciary . to keep the government in check."

Langa was the keynote speaker at a joint South African National Editors' Forum and Durban University of Technology breakfast in Durban yesterday. He was addressing the media, non-governmental organisation and academics on the "Role of the judiciary and its relationship with the media".

Langa said while the judiciary had to bear the responsibility of upholding the law, the media was responsible for reporting "what has happened and what has not happened".

He said both institutions played a vital role in ensuring that "freedom for all" did not remain an "illusion".

He said while the judiciary and media shared a "symbiotic relationship" and had "to look to each other for support", the two were completely independent of each other.

Langa said while the courts did not want an "uncritical and over-respectful media," the media had to report responsibly.

He said the judiciary consisted of "imperfect creatures trying to deliver justice in an imperfect world using imperfect means" and that the media was also fallible and sometimes made "horrible" mistakes through the use of "imperfect sources".

Overall the media served as a public watchdog and the judiciary had to protect the media while the media had to enhance the role of the courts in its reporting, he said.

Langa said the courts recognised and applauded the media's self-regulatory measures, but the judiciary "has to also discipline it within the acceptable bounds of freedom".

Freedom of expression is not designed to benefit the media; it is a right to benefit the people, Langa said.

"But if the media were hamstrung left, right and centre, then the people would be the poorer for it."

He said the media wield a very powerful instrument and must use it "to benefit society and strengthen democracy".

Meanwhile Sapa reported yesterday that ANC president Jacob Zuma has criticised the justice system, saying suspects in serious crimes obtain bail too easily.

Zuma also urged citizens and NGOs to join the fight against crime.

Speaking at a meeting of Afrikaner businessmen at Somerset West in the Western Cape, Zuma also said greater resources must be devoted to increasing the number of police officers on the streets and for a review of the salaries they receive.