Media freedom in South Africa is not declining, says Communications Minister Faith Muthambi, marking International Press Freedom Day.
Still fresh from marking the 22nd anniversary of freedom, Minister Muthambi said South Africa is still blessed with a free press, where the safety of journalists is guaranteed.
“As we mark International Press Freedom Day, we want to proudly inform the world that in our country, we are enjoying a complete free press, where journalists report without fear or favour. There is no journalist who is in jail for doing his/her work and as government, we want to reiterate that we will continue to defend and promote media freedom,” she said on Tuesday.
World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in December 1993, following the recommendation of UNESCO’s General Conference.
Since then, 3 May, the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek is celebrated worldwide as World Press Freedom Day.
It is an opportunity to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; assess the state of press freedom throughout the world; defend the media from attacks on their independence; and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
Minister Muthambi said pre-1994 the broadcasting system was characterised by inequality of access, language, cultural and educational programming and lack of diversity and choice in services and in programmes.
“Media freedom is my right…media freedom is your right…media freedom is for all of us, therefore, all of us have a responsibility to defend media freedom and editorial independence from any form of compulsion, be it political, economic or commercial.”
However, she said the media should understand that freedom of expression means that there should be objective reporting and analysis which is not coloured by prejudice and self-interest.
“The media should also understand that freedom of expression means that we should all try to ensure diversity: diversity of content, diversity of sources of information, diversity of ownership and diversity of outlook and responses in our advertising industry,” she said.
South Africa produced a progressive Constitution which guarantees freedom and rights. This includes freedom of the media, expression, association, assembly, artistic creativity, academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.
These freedoms are however not absolute. The Constitution adds that these rights do not extend to propaganda for war, incitement of imminent violence or the propagation of hatred based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion.
Minister Muthambi said the best journalists recognise their role as servants of the people, singling out sloppy or inaccurate reporting as one of the challenges facing the media industry in the country.
“As government, we don’t expect the media to accept information at a face value, our view is that journalists should always strive to write accurate and well balanced stories.
“In a democratic environment like ours, where we are not yet a cohesive nation, we don’t expect the media to write stories that seek to promote hatred amongst citizens…but we need stories that are like a glue that defines and unite South Africans,” she said.
Minister Muthambi also urged journalists not to use their profession for selfish ends, but to use it to improve the lives of other people.
“We understand that journalists, cannot always guarantee the ‘truth’ in their stories, but we expect them to earn our trust by getting the facts right. Journalists must be independent voices; should not act, formally or informally, on behalf of special interests whether political, corporate or cultural,” she said.
Minister Muthambi said the proposed amendments to the Broadcasting Act tabled by government are in line with the vision of ensuring universal access to broadcasting services in the country.
“The proposed amendments to the Broadcasting Act which we’ve tabled as government are in line with our vision of ensuring universal access to broadcasting services in South Africa. The proposed changes will strengthen the SABC and better allow it to fulfil its public broadcasting service mandate.
“Another good news is that the proposed changes in the Bill seeks to ensure that the Board of the Corporation is composed of persons with a range of skills and expertise required to ensure optimal operational efficiency, so that the Corporation is not left behind in the digital era,” she said.