Thursday, July 18, 2013

Examining Media Freedom in Post-Apartheid South Africa



“Is what was dubbed ‘the miracle’ of the South African transition from apartheid censorship to democracy and freedom of expression coming undone? Does the country now have the diverse and vibrant media culture essential to any functioning democracy?”

These are some questions Libby Lloyd asks in a report titled ‘South Africa's Media: 20 Years after Apartheid’ sponsored by the Centre for International Media Assistance (CIMA), a project of the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

Lloyd points out how of the newspapers that defied racism, censorship and repression of the pre-1994 apartheid regimes only one survives and the consequence of contracting funding for media projects. At the same time she explores how the drive for profits has led to the explosion of broadcast journalism in the country at the cost of content and editorial integrity.

The report also casts a critical eye on regulations that govern the freedom of expression in South Africa and the role the judiciary and public debate.      

Written as South African media faces mounting difficulties with diminishing sources of funding for high quality journalism, the report however says, “it is clear from this study that the few cases in which dedicated, targeted support has been provided for quality news content it has contributed to the development of islands of investigative journalism excellence. This in turn has ensured that those with economic or political power are held to account, and it has drawn attention to ongoing struggles for social justice.”


In a move striking deep at media freedom, South Africa passed a law known as Protection of State Information Bill (POSIB) in April this year. Media watchdog Reporters without Borders (RSF) said the Bill “would undermine freedom of information by exposing journalists to draconian penalties and forcing them to censor themselves. Sentences of up to 25 years in prison for revealing classified state information would pose a major threat to journalists, who often base their stories on leaks.” The Bill awaits President Zuma’s signature.

RSF says since 2009 South Africa plummeted by 52 places and is in 52nd position of 179 countries in the 2013 Media Freedom Index.  

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