Tuesday, January 20, 2004

I find this very disappointing. The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has not lived up to its name. Its dismissed a complaint brought against the SABC by opposition parties that it afforded the ANC an unfair advantage in the forthcoming election by broadcasting Thabo Mbeki's launch of the ANC manifesto, without doing the same for opposition parties. ICASA found that broadcasting Mbeki's address was not an electioneering opportunity for the ANC because it fell outside the 'election period', which is defined as the time from the announcement of the date of the election to the election itself.

I'm not familiar with the 'Elections Regulations and Guidelines' but this strikes me as what one would term an overly legalistic decision. In other words, ICASA has focused narrowly on the literal meaning of a particular provision while ignoring the broader purpose of the regulations -- there's no doubt that the ANC has gained an unfair advantage, regardless of the precise definition of the 'election period.'

A overly literal approach to legal interpretation is something that the South Africa legal system is meant to have abandoned. Nowadays the courts, at least, are meant to look more to the purpose of legislation and the guiding values of the Constitution (without, of course, compromising the integrity of the text). Perhaps one of the opposition parties will take this on judicial review, which would be interesting, but probably unlikely, given the expense involved.

Incidentally, this strikes me as typical of the problems that emerge when one party dominates the political system of a country and, by extension, gains influence in institutions -- like ICASA and the courts -- that are meant to act independently. The playing field becomes skewed.

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