- South African and international journalists are concerned over what they call a "creeping censorship" of media and "the emergence of direct pressures against journalists ten years after the end of the apartheid regime." Harassment of journalists and libel court cases are creating a more uncertain media landscape in South Africa.
The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is now expressing its "deep concerns" over threats to editorial independence and protection of sources revealed in South Africa's Freedom of Expression Institute's (FXI) annual report published last week, and alerts raised by the Media Workers' Association of South Africa (MWASA). The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries.
- This report traces the sinister development of a creeping censorship which will worry all friends of democracy in South Africa and those outside, commented Bertrand Ginet, the IFJ coordinator for Africa. He drew particular attention to a statement in the FXI report that "South Africa is witnessing more rather than less censorious activities against the media as the country moves into its second decade of democracy."
According to the South African media watchdog, "journalists have been harassed, physically assaulted and even threatened with death on account of their work. Courts have also been quick to issue interdicts or slap gagging orders against the media."
These assaults on press freedom, they say, have to be seen in the context of a broader political evolution: "the state has regularly had recourse to apartheid era laws to subpoena journalists in an attempt to compel them to testify or reveal their sources of information in court."
- The state has also attempted to introduce legislation that would potentially affect the right and ability of media to operate freely in South Africa, as it did with the Anti-Terrorism Bill which has since been shelved due to pressure from civil society, the national watchdogs say.
Also Tuwani Gumani, President of the media union MWASA, is alarmed. "The development of independent social movements taking up struggles around rights of access to basic services, after years of unemployment and social distress, has led the authorities to cross the line from direct confrontation to censorship and repression," said Mr Gumani.
The IFJ said it was also worried about the potential effects of the current trends on the rest of the region. "The multiplication of anti-terrorist laws and other forms of pressure since September 11th has led a number of countries to adopt indistinct restrictions on basic liberties and constraints on freedom of expression," said Mr Ginet.
- The escalation of direct threats against independent media and freedom of association in South Africa is a worrying precedent that needs to be confronted on the international level, added the IFJ representative.
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