- South Africans today celebrated the their country's media freedom day. The day means a lot to South Africans who were denied their right to express themselves during the days of apartheid. Nevertheless, national media watchdogs warn of "a growing threat" to press freedom.
As South Africa became free in 1994, with President Nelson Mandela's black-dominated government coming to power, this heralded the end of repressive rule, also for the press. By today, although being the youngest democracy in Africa, South Africa is viewed as hope for the entire continent.
Ahead of the annual press freedom celebration, the country's ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), issued a statement paying glory tributes to those who sacrificed and fought so hard for the achievement of the freedom of expression.
Media freedom day commemorates the banning in 1977 of 'The World' and 'Weekend World' by the apartheid government. The day provides an opportunity for all South Africans to share their joy as well as abhor censorship or intimidation in their country.
"Thanks to the struggles of the many journalists and media workers who stood up to the apartheid government, and to those many South Africans who understood a free media to be an integral part of a new democratic society, the country's media has the political and social space to publish and broadcast without fear or favour," the ANC statement read.
The South African constitution guarantees the right of citizens to freedom of expression, which explicitly includes the freedom of the press and other media. "As democratic institutions have been built and democratic practice deepened, this principle has informed the legal position of the media. The dark days of state censorship, bannings, harassment and imprisonment have been emphatically and unequivocally consigned to the past," the ANC proudly announced.
This exclusively positive outlook was however not shared by all. The Johannesburg-based Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) in a statement yesterday said that "over the past year, South Africa has witnessed growing threats to the independence of the communications sector." The press freedom group urged civil society and journalists to unite to reverse the trend of declining media freedom "before it becomes difficult to reverse."
Also South Africa's leading independent newspaper, the 'Mail and Guardian', used the commemorative day to warn about a "growing threat' to media freedom (front page title). Quoting the FXI statement, distributed by South Africa's national newswire 'SAPA', the paper especially emphasised the "rise in pre-publication censorship" at the national broadcaster 'SABC' and other media, and "pressure on the confidentiality of journalistic sources of information."
Even the ruling ANC meanwhile admitted the country still had a way to go to achieve total press freedom. South Africa was still faced with the challenges of building a robust, free and diverse media capable of giving voice to the views and interests of all of its people, in particular the poor and the marginalised, the party statement said, in a hidden message against the 'Mail and Guardian' and other newspapers, which the ANC claims represent the views of the upper class.
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