The South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) joins the world in celebrating International Press Freedom Day. This year’s celebration coincides with the national 20th anniversary of the demise of apartheid and the rise of freedom.
We salute all the freedom fighters who gave their lives to ensure we enjoy unfettered freedom, which includes the constitutionally enshrined freedom of the press and other media, today. In particular we pay tribute to the journalists who fought hard for media freedom, some even giving their lives for it. We remember and honour Percy Qoboza, Henry Nxumalo, Zwelakhe Sisulu, Ruth First, Ameen Akhalwaya and many more who refused to bow to the dictates of oppression and censorship.
Today the landscape for media in SA is transformed. There are more media outlets in the print, broadcast and digital space which ensure that diversity of voices is heard. Ownership in print is still a sticking point but the blueprint was laid last year by the Print and Digital Media Transformation Task Team (PDMTTT) which provides the industry with a way forward. We call on them to act on the recommendations.
Sanef notes and welcomes the amendments made to the Protection of State Information Bill but insists that a public interest defence clause would truly enhance the ability of media to assist with the combating of corruption. We therefore reiterate our call on this day to the ANC and President Jacob Zuma in particular, to send the bill to the Constitutional Court for ratification before signing it into law. The Bill is arguably the biggest threat to press freedom and freedom of expression since the dawn of democracy. We stand ready to challenge it in court should the president sign it into law.
As we rejoice in our freedom, we remain cognisant of the dangers that face many journalists throughout the world. Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria remain the major killing fields for journalists. The US has jailed a whistle blower and is threatening to arrest another.
Within our own continent, Eritrea still holds the dubious honour of the biggest jailer of journalists, some for more than 10 years without trial. Ethiopia, the headquarters of the African Union, is steadily slipping into a state that is intolerant of independent voices. Besides six journalists and bloggers who have been jailed for up to 14 years – including a woman suffering from cancer – this past week police and soldiers rounded up nine journalists and bloggers.
Closer to home, Swaziland continues to deny basic freedoms to its people and recently arrested and jailed a journalist for an article critical of the judiciary in that country. The silence of African governments and the general African public on all these violations is a cause for grave concern for Sanef and we call on the SA government to raise these issues publicly at appropriate forums.