18 April 2024 | 10:31 AM

Newsletter: Today is South Africa’s Media Freedom Day

Key Takeaways

It is appropriate we take stock of where we are today and how amaBhungane fits into the current media ecosystem, which is facing increased stress, both locally and internationally.

In one of his more trenchant newsletters, President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday  noted the robustness of media freedom in South Africa was cause for “optimism and pride”.

Yet, correctly, he also noted that our media was under pressure from financial stress, disinformation and via attempts to intimidate or silence journalists – especially female journalists – using online and other platforms.

The attempted criminalisation of News24 legal journalist Karyn Maughan is a glaring example – and it is no coincidence that it is a continuation of a campaign against media critics launched under State Capture or that its beneficiary is capturer-in-chief Jacob Zuma.

So, while there may be cause for pride over the role media played during the state capture era, the centrality of that role shows how weak many of our other institutions are.

The draft charge sheet in the Transnet capture case against Kuben Moodley and 17 others (including luminaries such as Brian Molefe, Anoj Singh and Salim Essa) could, for the most part, have been drawn up based on our reporting back in 2016.

And the decision by the National Prosecuting Authority to eschew the support of key private advocates who formed the backbone of some of the work of the Zondo Commission suggests a blinkered defensiveness that speaks to the continued weakness of the NPA, not its recovery.

All around us institutions are crumbling under the weight of decades of corruption and mismanagement.

And the pressures don’t let up.

Yesterday we delivered a last-minute submission to Parliament raising concerns about the draft new anti-terrorism Bill which government is attempting to rush through.

In our view the Bill in its present form would have a chilling effect on free speech, political debate and negatively affect the work of journalists and other forms of publication.

Last week we delivered another critical submission on an omnibus Bill to address weaknesses in our laws concerning terrorist financing and money laundering, which contained ill-considered provisions for the registration (and therefore the potential deregistration) of non-profit organisations.

It is one of amaBhungane’s unique strengths that it is not only a media organisation – it is also an accountability organisation, an advocacy group for the freedoms necessary to secure democracy, a bridge between commercial rivals, a resource for journalists to hone their investigative skills.

Our media ecosystem is fragile. Iqbal Survé has shown how once proud publications can be captured and dismembered.

Despite this environment, colleagues continue to do exceptional, priceless work.

Four examples off the top of my head: News24’s exposés of the background to the murder of health department whistleblower Babita Deokaran; Daily Maverick’s evisceration of Zweli Mkhize; and Arena Holdings’ exploration of the political and criminal links of zama zama mining gangs; GroundUp’s matchless, dogged pursuit of corruption at the National Lotteries Commission.

On this day we salute our colleagues!

And for once we can also endorse what our President says, when he opines, “The only counter to the proliferation of disinformation is the growth and expansion of credible news media outlets. The only counter to bad journalism… is credible, well-trained journalists whose only interest is educating and informing the public.”

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