In the previous part of this series I focused on what I perceive as the poor quality of local newspapers. In this article I’d like to talk about how it could be even worse. At least, as of now, South African newspapers are independent and not censored, but there is a real danger that precisely that could happen.
The ANC-led government, under Jacob Zuma, has pushed for new press laws, perhaps because it is feeling (and not liking) increased criticism of its performance in light of continued corruption and slow service delivery. It proposed a “Media Appeals Tribunal” sometime last year as a body to prosecute journalists for inaccuracies, and also introduced the “Protection of Information” bill whereby the government is granted broad powers to classify information “in the national interest,” making publication of any such information a crime punishable with up to 25 years in prison.
There was a huge outcry from the press over these proposals, rightfully so, and Mr. Zuma seems to have backed off for the moment. One can only hope that he will come to his senses and drop the whole idea. He should just take a look around at countries like Zimbabwe that have equally repressive laws to realize that South Africa can only lose by following that path. Not only that, but does he have no memory? It is not so long ago that the South African press was severely censored under the apartheid government, and it was the ANC, first and foremost, that fought for more freedoms and benefited from newspaper editors who had the courage to report the wrongs that were committed despite the risks they ran.
It never fails to appall me when the oppressed, having successfully thrown off their oppressors, turn oppressors themselves. How can they look into the mirror? Or are they so convinced of pursuing the right path that they truly believe any means are justified?
Let’s just hope that South Africa’s press freedom will survive.