JOHANNESBURG — Freedom of expression needs to be balanced to give the right to dignity and privacy to all South Africans, President Jacob Zuma said this week, after he agreed to withdraw a defamation case against a newspaper cartoonist who depicted him poised to rape Lady Justice.
Mr. Zuma said his government’s proposed Media Appeals Tribunal is designed to assure those rights in South Africa, where the president’s complaints against some in the local press have brought this tension into sharp focus.
A media tribunal would “strengthen, complement and support the current self-regulatory institutions” such as the press council, said Mr. Zuma, speaking to the Foreign Correspondents Association on Monday.
“The African National Congress fought for media freedom and will continue doing everything in its power to promote freedom of expression and media freedom,” Mr. Zuma said. “At the same time, we also remind those who are privileged to have access to the media to respect the rights of others.”
But media watchdogs disagree with Mr. Zuma and say that industry self-regulation is the best approach, not a tribunal that could be manipulated by those in power.
“I think the potential for it to be abused is too high,” William Bird of Media Monitoring Africa, a watchdog group, said of the proposed tribunal.
Mr. Zuma has taken several media organizations to court for alleged defamation, including Jonathan Shapiro, a cartoonist for the local Sunday Times newspaper, which he accused of defamation in a case that was set start off this week.
In the cartoon, Mr. Zuma unzips his trousers as he stands over Lady Justice, who is pinned to the ground by the president’s political allies.
Mr. Zuma was acquitted of a rape charge in 2007.
Mr. Zuma said he agreed to drop that case after the newspaper conceded it had defamed him. The Sunday Times said over the weekend that Mr. Zuma’s attorneys agreed to withdraw the case without conditions and to pay half of the newspaper’s legal costs.
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