Global media association the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has honoured City Press editor Ferial Haffajee for her contribution to media freedom.
The CPJ’s annual International Press Freedom Awards are awarded in recognition of courageous reporting, with the candidates having faced imprisonment, violence, and censorship.
Haffajee said she was “honoured” at the news that she was one of four recipients of the 2014 awards. “Sadly, there are a lot of places in the world where it is life-threatening to be a journalist (Syria, Iraq) or dangerous (Ethiopia, Egypt, Russia, Sweden) – so an honour in a contested market is good,” she told The Media Online.
Haffajee believes she was awarded the honour for the “feistiness of South African media and for the ways in which we protect the liberties of our fine Constitutional freedom”.
“As I write this, I am about to start reading the transcripts of the spy tapes – now transparent and open to analysis because of good footwork by the Sunday Times; in Durban, the veil of secrecy has been pierced by Media 24 in an application to allow the media into the Nkandla disciplinary hearings. Nothing protects freedom like transparency,” she says.
Haffajee says the CPJ representative in South Africa, Sue Valentine, believes the award will “shine a light on media freedom in South Africa and on the steps needed to burnish it over the next 20 years”.
She says that as someone who has spent time reporting under apartheid and then under democracy “the worlds are far-removed”.
“The old order was odious in its opacity; dangerous and implacable. The new one has its challenges, but we have a fine Constitution, access to information and other laws that aid our endeavours. They need expanding and protecting. In addition, I hope the award will be used to ensure that the Protection of State Information bill, which has been on the President’s desk for hundreds of days, finally gets put in File 13,” she says.
Haffajee says she’s concerned that journalists working in other SADC countries operate in dangerous conditions. “I think specifically of editor Bheki Makhubu and columnist Thulani Maseko who are jailed for their columns. I am also aghast at the continued jailing of our colleagues in Ethiopia and in Egypt and hope to use the award period in November to draw attention to these areas,” she says. Haffajee will attend the awards ceremony in New York that is being hosted by legendary journalist, Christine Amanpour.
The secrecy bill remains the biggest immediate threat to media freedom in South Africa, Haffajee says. But there are other looming issues too.
“I await with interest the Green Paper on media transformation and diversity to see whether or not it includes a licensing condition.
There are remnant pieces of law that are still used against us: these include Section 205 of the Criminal Procedure Act as well as the National Key Points Act. The latter was, of course, resuscitated to attempt to stop reporting on or using photographs of Nkandla, the presidential estate expanded at a cost of R246-million. We ignored it,” she says.
Another threat is shrinking newsrooms, which are are an “under-studied threat to media freedom and our role as a fourth estate. Do we cover all parts of our country? Do we do beat reporting well? Is the private sector under-examined? You know my story about churnalism…”
It’s a fact that the ANC and government are under enormous pressure right now, and the media has come in for quite a lot of the blame for this.
“I see that the tide has shifted to a firm anti-corruption stance in society aided by a strong media, a brilliant Public Protector and a more muscular parliamentary opposition,” Haffajee says. “In addition, a diverse media is more apparent with the SABC, the New Age and Independent Media taking clear positions in support of the governing party while others choose a more critical stance. This has made the governing ANC easier in its role as it has a media outlet. Of course, the government advertising pie cannot be distributed on partisan lines (it must be spent for public impact) and this may become an issue for contestation,” she says.
US ambassador to South Africa, Patrick Gaspard, recently criticised South African journalists (lack of) response to a statement by the SABC’s chief operating officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, that reporters should be licensed. Gaspard said, “I was stunned that all of you weren’t outside of the SABC headquarters the next morning.”
Should South Africans, in the media and out of it, do more when it comes to maintaining our rights and freedoms?
“Although he holds a powerful position at a powerful broadcaster, the response to Mr Motsoeneng’s 19th century views on free journalism was clear: South Africa will not licence its journalists. He represents a fringe view and not the mainstream view on the role and position of free media in South Africa,” says Haffajee.
“If there is one area where we need greater activism and contestation is in opposition to censorship at the SABC by Mr Motsoeneng’s own hand. He has censored talk shows, magazine programmes, individuals, election advertising and commercial advertising too. Motsoeneng censored three City Press advertisements on entirely spurious grounds,” she says.
In announcing the winners of this year’s awards, CPJ executive director Joel Simon said in a statement we are “confronting record levels of violence and repression against journalists and, recently, vivid displays of brutality perpetrated against reporters covering the Syrian conflict” Simon said the journalists that CPJ will honor with the International Press Freedom Award “are undeterred and unbowed. They have risked all to bring us the news”.
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