According to the results of an annual !_LT_U href=”http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=362″ target=_blank mce_href=”http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=362″survey!_LT_/U of media independence, South Africa has retained its position on a list of 195 countries and territories Ã¢Â€Â“ based on the degree of print, broadcast and internet freedom. The US-based non-governmental organisation Freedom House placed South Africa 59!_LT_SUPth!_LT_/SUP in 2008, as it did in 2007.
The latest ratings, released close to World Press Freedom Day (3 May), are based on an assessment of the “legal, political and economic environments in which journalists worked in 2007″.
According to Reporters Without Borders’ href=”http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=24025″ target=_blank mce_href=”http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=24025″latest press freedom index (2007), South Africa improved its ranking to 43!_LT_SUPrd!_LT_/SUP out of 169 countries Ã¢Â€Â“ from 44!_LT_SUPth!_LT_/SUP in 2006. However, its latest position is a significant drop from 26!_LT_SUPth !_LT_/SUPin 2002.
Raymond Louw, editor and publisher of the Southern Africa Report, notes in a href=”http://www.misa.org/researchandpublication/democracy/So%20this%20is%20democracy.pdf” target=_blank mce_href=”http://www.misa.org/researchandpublication/democracy/So%20this%20is%20democracy.pdf”report on the state of media freedom in the region (2007) released by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), that the government and the ANC’s “intolerance for media freedom continues to intensify”.
“Many instances of obstruction of journalists’ activities were noted during 2007,” Louw states, citing examples including government’s angry response to reporting on Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang’s behaviour in hospital, the proposed amendments to the Films and Publications Act and the proposed statutory media appeals tribunal which is set to deal with public complaints about the press.
In an interview with TheMediaOnline, Jane Duncan, executive director of the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI), said the threat to press freedom in South Africa had intensified over the last few years.
“The problem is broader one of freedom of expression in the country in general. Looking back to the early 2000s, we saw suppressions of public gatherings and the use of excessive police force. And as service delivery issues increased, the Mbeki administration centralised power under the presidency. Power also shifted within the ANC to the ruling elite,” she says.
An example of the shifting of power is seen in the broadcast and telecommunications industries with the erosion of the independence of the Independent Communications Association of South Africa (Icasa). Duncan says more and more of Icasa’s functions have been taken over by parliament, for example the licensing of the state-owned broadband provider, Infraco.
“The minister of communications also sought to have the authority to appoint and remove councillors, which did not occur, but she still plays a role in this process,” she says.
The last year has been marked by competing trends with the courts looking more kindly on media freedom, preventing a number of attempts to gag media reports, with the executive of the ANC in contrast looking less kindly on the media.
Duncan says for the media to remain free, a media appeals tribunal needs to be avoided and the press council (a self-regulatory body) needs to be strengthened.
“We also need more positive judgements in the courts, which have narrowed grounds for pre-publication censorship, and we need a new SABC Act that increases the independence of the public broadcaster and ensures the CEO, CFO (chief financial officer) and COO (chief operating officer) are appointed by the board and not by the minister,” she says.