South Africa's Zuma, responding to international concern, says media freedom not threatened

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — International news agencies alarmed by South African proposals that could see reporters jailed should not fear freedoms are under attack, the president said Friday, adding that South Africa has one of the world's most progressive constitutions.

President Jacob Zuma's statement was in response to letters he has received from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg, Reuters, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers and other groups.

Zuma's African National Congress has proposed a tribunal that could discipline journalists. The party also put forth a bill under which reporters could be jailed for publishing information that officials want kept secret.

Zuma "wishes to assure the media groupings that government remains fully committed to media freedom as enshrined in the constitution," the statement said.

"We respect the constitution of our country, we fought hard for it to be as progressive and as exemplary as it is," Zuma said.

He said the information bill, which is still being refined after a public comment period, is aimed at fighting spying and protecting sensitive information. No date has been set for parliament, which is overwhelmingly controlled by the ANC, to vote on the bill.

"It is simply not correct that this bill is meant to hide corruption or inefficiencies with the broad system of government," Zuma said Friday.

He did not elaborate on the media tribunal proposal, other than to say comments on it had been forwarded to ANC officials.

Zuma told parliament earlier this week that the media tribunal was being debated within the ANC and was not yet party or government policy.

The proposals come at a time of strained relations between Zuma and other ANC officials and journalists who have reported on corrupt government officials and on power struggles within the party.