- The Johannesburg-based Freedom of Expression Institute has signalled its deep alarm at the rising number of cases affecting media freedom as well as the increasing inroads into media freedom in South Africa in the recent past.
In a statement released to the media this morning, the institute stated that in the last few months, the media has come under increasing strain from both state and non-state sources, "a situation that raises serious concerns regarding the conditions under which the media is able to operate and fulfil its constitutional mandate of informing the public."
The Freedom of Expression Institute had observed that since the beginning of October, Judge Joos Hefer, who is currently chairing the Hefer Commission, had been attempting to get journalists to testify and even possibly reveal some of their sources of information around the allegations that National Director of Public Prosecutions, Bulelani Ngcuka, had been investigated by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) as a possible apartheid spy.
At the same time, two journalists working with the 'Sunday Times' have been ordered by the Cape Town High Court to hand over their notes and tape recordings of any interviews or conversations relating to the civil case between prominent author Wilbur Smith and his stepson.
The institute also pointed out that last week, the Pretoria High Court had "slapped a gag order" against the daily 'Mail and Guardian', prohibiting it from publishing information relating to corruption allegations against a well-connected local businessman Walter Senoko and his company, Positioning Corporate Underwriters and Consultants.
Similarly, the institute said that on Thursday this week, it was reported in the local media that hidden listening devices had been discovered in the studios and offices of one of the community radio stations, 'Radio Pretoria'.
The media watchdogs said that "all these cases demonstrate a clear trend that media in the country is coming under increasing pressure and the audacity with which the violations are taking place indicates a continuing dilution of the constitutional right of the media to operate freely and openly."
The institute expressed its deep concerns about this state of affairs and urgently called upon the general public, institutions of state and private entities to respect and refrain from unduly interfering with the media.
It also laid emphasis on the crucial role that a critical and independent media plays in fostering an open and accountable democracy especially at this time when malpractices in the public and private sphere in South Africa are increasingly becoming commonplace.
Post-apartheid South Africa is rated among the freest countries in the world in terms of media liberties, and the South African constitution is said to exemplary when it comes to guarantee human rights. Many of these liberties however yet have to be tested in court.
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