It is normal practice in most democracies that, during an election period, particular attention is paid to ensuring that government communication structures and officials do not act in a way that advantages or disadvantages participants in the electoral contest.
On 31 March 1999, Cabinet decided on a framework to be formulated to regulate against the dissemination of government information during election periods in a way that is to the advantage of one political party and to the disadvantage of others.
The guidelines were adopted during the local government elections in 2000 and the national and provincial elections in 2004. However, as outlined in Section 3, it is important to note that the provisions of the Public Service Act, 1994 were amended in 2007. They assist government communicators and other relevant public servants in determining the specific parameters within which they should conduct their work during an election period.
1. Scope of application
According to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), an election period is the period during which the IEC's Code of Conduct and the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s regulations apply. This period is determined once the date for the election has been announced, party lists are submitted and participating parties and candidates confirmed. The period ends when election results are certified and announced.
The regulations state that during an election period:
- state-financed media will not be used for the purpose of promoting or prejudicing the interests of any political party
- state-financed media should continue to be used for the distribution and dissemination of government information.
State-financed media means any newspaper, book, periodical, pamphlet, poster, media release or other printed matter, or statement, or any audio and video material, or any information in electronic format such as CD-ROM, Internet or e-mail, which is produced and disseminated to the public, and which is financed by, and directly under the control of, government. Examples of state-financed media include BuaNews Online, internal and external government newsletters and magazines.
These regulations apply only to communicators and other relevant public servants. Ministers, deputy ministers, premiers, MECs and all political representatives, contractual workers and employees in role-playing posts in government are regulated by the Ministerial Handbook.
2. Public Service Regulations, 2001
Paragraph C.2.7 of the Code of Conduct for the Public Service provides that: “an employee does not abuse her or his position in the Public Service to promote or prejudice the interest of any political party or interest group”. Paragraph C.2.9 provides that “an employee recognises the public’s right of access to information, excluding information that is specifically protected by law”.
3. Public Service Amendment Act, 2007
Section 32 of the Public Service Amendment Act, 2007 provides that: “An employee may be a candidate for election as a member of the National Assembly, a provincial legislature or a municipal council, subject to the Code of Conduct contemplated in Section 41(l)(b)(v) and any other prescribed limits and conditions. An employee elected as a member of the National Assembly or a provincial legislature or a full-time member of a municipal council shall be deemed to have resigned from the Public Service with effect from the date immediately before the date he or she assumes office as such member. An employee appointed as a permanent delegate of the National Council of Provinces shall be deemed to have resigned from the Public Service with effect from the date immediately before the date he or she assumes office as such delegate. An employee elected as a member of a municipal council may only remain an employee in the Public Service if he or she serves as a part-time member of the council; and shall comply with Section 30(1)."
During an election period, these and other provisions of the Act continue to apply to all public servants. Communication agencies and components of government and their employees have to exercise special care to ensure that their media products, statements and public events do not promote or prejudice any political party.
4. Constitutional rights and obligations
Government communicators and their departments should continue meeting the obligation of government to provide information to the people.
They should continue exercising their responsibility to articulate, promote and defend the policies, programmes and actions of government.
Like all other South Africans, communication officers have freedom of association. Subject to the provisions of the Public Service Amendment Act, 2007 and Public Service Regulations, they may belong to any political party of their choice.
Themba Maseko (Government Spokesperson)
Cell: 083 645 0810
Issued by: Government Communications (GCIS)