Long Live South Africa’s Free Press

By Genevieve Belmaker
Genevieve Belmaker
Genevieve Belmaker
Genevieve Belmaker is a former reporter and editor with The Epoch Times.
August 24, 2010 Updated: October 1, 2015

Epoch Times Photo If you blinked in the past month, you probably missed the battle for freedom of the press that is raging in South Africa. Earlier this month, the editors of South Africa’s major publications issued a statement of protest dubbed the Auckland Park Declaration.

The declaration was issued in response to clauses in the Protection of Information Bill and the proposed Media Appeals Tribunal. The advocacy organization Freedom House is expressing concern over the situation:

“The Protection of Information bill, put forward by the Ministry of Intelligence and currently under consideration by the South African parliament, is a revised version of a bill initially submitted in 2008, which was rejected due to concerns it would lead to excessive official secrecy.

“Several provisions in the bill are cause for serious concern, including an overly broad definition of ‘national interest’ with regards to classifying information and heavy penalties of up to 25 years in prison for the publication or dissemination of official or classified information.

“Additionally, those seeking to access or declassify information face several obstacles, including bearing the burden of proof that public interest outweighs national security concerns.”

This story goes beyond an out-of-touch government whose members are acting like imperialists the way they treat freedom of the press. What’s most striking is the vigorous response from members of the South African media. Instead of shrinking from the controversy, they are meeting this issue head-on, refusing to accept unreasonable limitations.

As stated in the Auckland Park Declaration:

“Free speech and access to information are the lifeblood of our democracy, and we are at the very heart of the struggle for freedom. Human dignity is indivisible from freedom of speech.”

Those in the government pushing this legislation should pause and consider the implications of the journalistic community at large publicly standing up against them.

The South African journalists are not defending their reputations, jobs, or political influence. Their strength lies in their lofty ideals that serve the public interest, regardless of the cooked-up reasons the government might profess.

According to Eyewitness News, the country’s most prominent writers have come out in defense of the media:

“Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer and Man Booker Prize winner Andre Brink are leading the protest opposing [the] government’s draft Protection of Information Bill and the ANC’s proposed media tribunal.

“Fellow writers Zakes Mda, Breyten Breytenbach, Mandla Langa, and many others … said that if the work and freedom of a writer [are] in jeopardy, then the freedom of every reader in South Africa is in danger.”

For the sake of democracy, the journalists, and every reader in South Africa: Long live the free press!

Genevieve Long writes for the Media and Foreign Policy Blog [mediaforeignpolicy.foreignpolicyblogs.com/ ] where this article was first published.

 

Genevieve Belmaker is a former reporter and editor with The Epoch Times.