The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) is deeply concerned that 2020 has become a dark period for media freedom worldwide considering the increase in the number of journalists jailed in various countries since the COVID-19 crisis.
SANEF joins the African Editors Forum (TAEF) in condemning the new anti-media freedom regulations signed by Tanzanian president, John Magufuli which have eroded the gains made by the Tanzanian media in the past four decades.
Tanzania has over the past months shut down several media outlets and ordered the seizure and closure of newspapers critical of his government. It has also put in place repressive laws that restrict media freedom and threaten journalist safety in the country. These laws include the Electronic and Postal Communications Act, adopted in 2018. This requires anyone with a blog or a website to pay hefty license fees. New rules have forced media companies to reapply for operating licences on a more regular basis, further restricting critical voices in the local media.
SANEF also expresses its solidarity with the World Association of News Publishers and the World Editors Forum, in condemning the continued detention of Hopewell Chin’ono, a Zimbabwean journalist; the increased jail time for Al Jazeera journalist, Mahmoud Hussein in Egypt; and the arrest in Hong Kong on Monday of Jimmy Lai, the founder and publisher of Apple Daily.
Last week, the Zimbabwean courts denied bail to Chin’ono, a 2010 Nieman Fellow, accusing him of stoking violence ahead of planned anti-government protests. Chin’ono has been actively exposing corruption in Zimbabwe.
On Sunday, the Egyptian authorities extended the detention of Al Jazeera journalist, Hussein, for another 45 days. He has been in jail since December 2016, surpassing the legal limit of detention without trial. Egypt has ignored calls by the UN for it to end this detention.
Lai, his two sons, and six executives of Apple Daily’s parent company, Next Digital, were arrested under new national security laws early on Monday and some 200 policemen raided the Apple Daily offices. The laws, which were adopted by China for the city at the end of June, criminalise secession, subversion, and collusion with foreign forces – the charge levied against Lai.
Warren Fernandez, President of the World Editors’ Forum, has noted with concern the rise in detention of journalists. He has called on all journalists to stand with editors on the African continent in calling for the release of Chin’ono and urged regional powers to put pressure on the Zimbabwean government to stop criminalising critical journalism. “We also believe that Mr Hussein should be released, particularly in light of the worsening health conditions in Egypt’s jails,” he said.
According to the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), “the number of countries regarded as safe, where journalists can work in complete security, continues to decline, while authoritarian regimes continue to tighten their grip on the media”.
The Index, which evaluates the situation for journalists each year in 180 countries and territories, suggests that the next ten years will be pivotal for press freedom because of converging crises affecting the future of journalism. These factors include a geopolitical turmoil due to the aggressiveness of authoritarian regimes; a technological turmoil due to a lack of democratic guarantees); a democratic crisis due to polarisation and repressive policies; a crisis of trust due to suspicion and even hatred of the media; as well as an economic crisis impoverishing quality journalism.
RSF secretary-general, Christophe Deloire warns that, “the public health crisis provides authoritarian governments with an opportunity to implement the notorious ‘shock doctrine’ – to take advantage of the fact that politics are on hold, the public is stunned, and protests are out of the question, to impose measures that would be impossible in normal times.”
Deloire said, “For this decisive decade to not be a disastrous one, people of goodwill, whoever they are, must campaign for journalists to be able to fulfil their role as society’s trusted third parties, which means they must have the capacity to do so,”.
According to the Index, the African continent has suffered significant media freedom reversals, in the forms of prolonged arbitrary detention and online attacks. It also notes that it is the Asia-Pacific region that saw the most significant rise in press freedom violations. Hong Kong is among areas on the radar of suppressed media freedom because of its treatment of journalists during pro-democracy demonstrations.
SANEF is concerned that the absence of appropriate regulation in the era of digitalised and globalised communication has created information discord. Propaganda, advertising, rumour, and journalism are in direct competition. The growing confusion between commercial, political, and editorial content has destabilised democratic guarantees of freedom of opinion and expression. It has encouraged the adoption of dangerous laws which – on the pretext of restricting the spread of fake news – facilitate harsher crackdowns on independent and critical journalism.
SANEF was co-signatory to a letter to Cyril Ramaphosa as chair of the African Union – calling on him to demand the release of Chin’ono and other jailed journalists who have been essential workers during the COVID-pandemic. To date, more than two weeks later, there has been no response to the letter despite the urgency in the situation.
Note to Editors: The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) is a non-profit organisation whose members are editors, senior journalists and journalism trainers from all areas of the South African media. We are committed to championing South Africa’s hard-won freedom of expression and promoting quality, ethics and diversity in the South African media. We promote excellence in journalism through fighting for media freedom, writing policy submissions, research and education and training programmes. SANEF is not a union.
For more information please contact:
Mahlatse Mahlase – SANEF Chairperson, (083) 399-2852
Katy Katopodis – SANEF Deputy Chairperson, (082) 805-7022
Moipone Malefane – SANEF Secretary-General (082) 772-5861
Mary Papayya – SANEF Media Freedom Chair (082) 379-4957
Sbu Ngalwa – SANEF Eastern Cape Convenor (073) 404-1415
Janet Heard – SANEF Western Cape Convenor (078) 041-9528
Hopewell Radebe – SANEF Gauteng Regional Convenor (083) 582-1734
Judy Sandison – SANEF KZN Convenor (082) 571-3334
Kate Skinner – SANEF Executive Director – (082) 926-6404