Press freedom under threat

Washington – Concern has been raised here over South Africa’s ranking in the newly launched World Press Freedom report as well as the overall decline in press freedom worldwide.

The country fell from 33rd to 37th place ­– a fall that some analysts during a panel discussion on the report at the Newseum described as very concerning, especially since South Africa is a regional leader.

The think tank Freedom House this week launched the annual report on World Press Freedom and a map depicting levels of press freedom.

Jennifer Dunham, project manager and 2015 Press Freedom Report co-author, said world press freedom had declined to its lowest levels in a decade as only 14% of the world’s population live in countries where it exists.

This meant that one in every 17 people lived in countries where they could freely and robustly cover political affairs, where journalists were safe and where there was minimal interference in how the media conducted its business.

“This is especially in cases probing corruption involving political figures,” she said.

‘It’s getting bad faster’

US Senator Bob Casey, who attended the unveiling of the Press Freedom Map said: “It is a sobering time to be a journalist.”

According Vanessa Tucker, vice president for analysis at Freedom House, “the news is bleak”.

“Journalists are facing pressures from all sides. Things are getting bad, and it’s getting bad faster.”

She referred to the increase in legislation in many countries to stifle journalists’ access to information and specifically referred to South Africa in this regard.

“Laws are used to restrict access in places like South Korea and South Africa where apartheid era law on national security is being used to prevent journalists on reporting on corruption of public officials.

The National Key points Act was cited as the biggest contributor.

This act has been used to stifle journalists reporting on locations such as President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla-residence and the Gupta’s plane landing at the Waterkloof air force base.

General harassment of journalists by the police, as well as the killing of a freelance journalist Michael Tsele in Brits in the North West last year, also contributed to the negative rating.

South Africa, along with Botswana and South Sudan, had the biggest decline in the rankings in Africa. Zimbabwe, according to the report, improved due to a positive court ruling on criminal defamation and a reduction in physical attacks on media practitioners.

* Alicestine October is part of a media tour for African journalists hosted by the US State Department and Foreign Press Centre


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