Media Activists Honors Media Freedom Day – Black Wednesday

world_press_freedom_dayIn remembering and honoring the importance of the media in society, MISA-South Africa, South African Editors Forum (SANEF), Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI), (Pictured: Delegates at Media Freedom Day)

Print Media South Africa (PMSA) and Institute of Advancement of Journalism (IAJ) held an informative event on 19 October 2009 to commemorated the 23rd anniversary of the 19 October 1977 horror of several publications banned.

The day is still celebrated and honored by many, 23 years later after the horror. On that day the major newspapers, The World, Weekend World and the christian publication, Pro-Veritas, were banned by the then apartheid government. On the same day, scores of activists and journalists were detained. According to MISA-South Africa Chairperson, Raymond Louw, the degree of media freedom has improved since the advent of democracy in South Africa, but a lot more still needs to be done. “The media is much freer today compared to the apartheid days. However, there is still a lot more to be done to ensure its independence,” said Louw.

He said the government was introducing legislation that sought to control the media. “I am extremely worried about these laws. I’m even more worried about more legislation being introduced,” he said. Referring to the Films and Publications Amendment Act 3 of 2009 that was recently signed into law, Louw said it brought about unpleasant working conditions, where journalists and publishers were working in fear of being jailed or incurring huge fines. The new law states that every publication – including those published on the Internet – that is not a recognized newspaper, must be submitted for classification if it can possibly be construed to deal with a wide variety of matters listed in the legislation. These matters include sexual conduct which violates or shows disrespect for the rights of human dignity of any person, degrades a person or constitutes incitement to cause harm or violence and advocates propaganda for war.

When the bill was introduced in 2006, the media industry protested that it paved the way for pre-publication censorship and criminalized free expression. I don’t think it is constitutional for publishers to have to get approval before their stories are published,” said Louw, adding that the legislation was broad, complicated and confusing. He said South Africa should guard against following in the footsteps of Zimbabwe, Botswana and other African countries, which sought to control their media. “It is not a South African or ANC thing. In developed countries president after president has tried to introduce legislation attempting to control the media. Journalists should fight for media freedom. They should make a big noise about it to stop these laws, like the class of 1977 did,” he said. He added that it was worrying that in the past few years, of the 53 African countries, 31 had journalists detained or sentenced, or publications closed down.

Retired Judge Pius Langa refused to be drawn into the constitutionality of the Films & Publications Amendment Act. “I can’t make judgments here. It is the media’s role to investigate these laws and take them to court if they are unhappy,” said Langa. He commended the media for “talking” the country out of apartheid. “The media made a lot of noise against oppression. It talked us out of apartheid,” he said, adding that he would mourn the day when the media was silent. Without the media, equality and human dignity would diminish in this democratic state, and said independence of both the media and judiciary is very important for democracy to flourish.” Press Ombudsman Joe Thloloe said journalists today were too greedy. “The class of 1977 was driven by a bigger cause to liberate and educate the nation. Today journalists are greedy. They worry more about their salaries and benefits, than serving the public,” said Thloloe.

Post published in: Politics

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