World Press Freedom Day — the annual event observed on May 3 to remind governments around the world of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom — is a time for reflection among media professionals.
This year, Amnesty International SA, the Free Speech Campaign, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Media Monitoring Africa and the SA National Editors’ Forum said SA was facing multiple threats is subject to freedom of expression.
This includes attacks on journalists by the police, political parties and the public; Online threats against journalists, such as hate speech, harassment, and doxing (public disclosure of previously private personal information about an individual or entity, usually over the internet); surveillance of journalists by state intelligence; overly punitive legislation targeting or restricting journalists’ ability to report, and; the continued vulnerability of senior journalists at the public broadcaster.
“All of this restricts the right to freedom of expression in the country and could potentially limit the public’s right to access information in the public interest. These issues must be adequately addressed by the state to avoid weakening freedom of expression in the country,” the organizations said in a joint statement.
Last month, the five organizations made a joint submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) focusing on SAs’ compliance with international human rights obligations relating to freedom of thought and expression. The UPR is a four-yearly review of the human rights records of all UN member states.
“Our submission raises concerns about a number of issues, most notably physical attacks on and Harassment of journalists, online attacks and surveillance of journalists, ‘fake news’ and editorial interference with the SABC,” the statement said.
“Although the media in South Africa enjoys more freedom than many of their peers on the continent and elsewhere in the world, they face a spate of physical and online attacks on a daily basis. Trust in the media has also declined in recent years, particularly due to misinformation and disinformation.”
Over the past five years, there have been at least 59 separate incidents in which journalists those working on site have been attacked or verbally and physically harassed, preventing them from doing their jobs. The main perpetrators are the police, political parties and groups and their supporters, reporting communities, and criminals.
“These attacks limit the ability of journalists to do their jobs to comply properly, and therefore have direct consequences for media and freedom of expression in SA,” the organizations said, expressing concern that attacks on the media stem from an underlying lack of understanding and acceptance of testify to the importance of free media and the deliberate attempts by politicians, including cabinet members, to undermine the media.”
The organizations said they were concerned that attacks on journalists might discourage their willingness to do their job well or lead to self-censorship as there is no easy judicial remedy for the victims.
“We ha Concerns about reports of ongoing government surveillance of journalists have been raised by the police’s Crime Intelligence Division, with the most recent incidents reported as recently as March 2021. This is despite the fact that the Constitutional Court declared the Interception of Communications and Provision of Communications-Related Information (or Rica) Act. unconstitutional,” the statement said.
Support independent journalism by subscribing to The Sunday Times. Only 20 R for the first month.