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The SA National Editors’ Forum joins colleagues throughout the free world in celebrating World Press

3 May 2010

The SA National Editors’ Forum joins colleagues throughout the free world in celebrating World Press Freedom Day today but deplores the encroachments on freedom of expression and of the media which appear to be steadily advancing on journalists in South Africa and neighbouring countries.

Sanef has already protested at a proposal put forward by the ruling African National Congress to introduce a statutory media tribunal to punish what the authorities regard as media transgressions but which the media regard as the pursuit of public interest information.

This threat has appeared to recede in recent months but has been revived by the comments of Labour Department director general Jimmy Manyi who, on Thursday, accused the media of abusing constitutionally enshrined freedom of speech to turn the office of President Jacob Zuma into “the most disrespected office in the land’‘. He wants the freedom of expression clause to be discussed which means he wants it reviewed. Sanef notes that Manyi spoke in his additional role of president of the Black Management Forum.

Sanef deplores the outbursts of politicians against the media—in particular accusing it of misrepresentation in attempts to shift blame for their own failures on to the media—and the continued encroachment of restrictive legislation and official conduct, the latest being the Public Service Broadcasting Bill which envisages an SABC service tied to the Department of International Relations.

Sanef also deplores the increasing obstruction and arrest of journalists by police at crime scenes and of the illegal removal of picture images from photographers’ cameras when they are deemed to embarrass the government personage concerned.

While Sanef recognises the admirable action taken by President Zuma in admonishing Youth League President Julius Malema for attempting to muzzle the media by carrying out illegal investigations of journalists’ private lives—apparently using secret intelligence operatives—it is concerned that it appears to have little effect and the President’s oft-repeated public commitments to press freedom sound hollow especially when there appear to be no steps taken to curb the abuse of the media by party and government officials.

Sanef notes the irony in that World Press Freedom Day falls on the same day as the ANC is scheduled to hold a disciplinary hearing against Malema, for, among other things, his shameful abuse of BBC journalist Jonah Fish at a press conference and awaits the outcome with keen interest. It appears, however, that the hearing will not deal with his audacious action of spying on the media, perhaps the most sinister attack on press freedom since the advent of constitutional democracy in our country.

Sanef also condemns the manner in which press freedom has been restricted in Botswana, once hailed as one of the freest countries in Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe where stated intentions to lift the yoke of oppression on the media there have been stifled.