24 July 2024 | 04:37 AM

Media freedom in South Africa has decreased markedly since 2008, a watchdog says.

Key Takeaways

The latest African Media Barometer (AMB): South Africa 2010 report presents a mixed picture on the state of the media and media freedom in the country. It says there is widespread belief that “spooks are everywhere”.

South Africa’s overall rating for its media environment has decreased, according to the report published by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) and the Media Institute of Southern Africa.

FES is a private German political, non-profit, public-interest institution committed to social democracy.

In 2006, the overall score for freedom of expression for the country was 3.2 out of 5, in 2008 it was 3.5 and in 2010 it decreased to 3.

Categories taken into account include: freedom of the media, the media landscape including diversity, independence and sustainability, broadcasting regulation and professional standards.

Scoring in a range of subcategories were conducted by a 10-person panel of South Africans, including a trade unionist, a media academic, a journalist, a human rights activist, a broadcasting consultant, a social movement activist, a gender activist and an IT specialist.

The barometer says that although the right to freedom of expression, including media freedom and the right to access information, is guaranteed in the Constitution, in “recent years, though, these protections are being increasingly challenged in practice, or by proposals for new legislation”.

“The tone of the political discourse is becoming sharper”, with “harsh criticism of corruption and greed in government circles from a broad spectrum of society”. Government, as well as sections of the ANC, the report says, reacts defensively and critics are labelled as “unpatriotic”, “enemies” or “counter-revolutionaries”. And police, “overreact” against people with critical views whereas whistle-blowers feel increasingly insecure.

“There are reports of people who had revealed instances of corruption to the press being threatened or even killed — and there is the suspicion that spooks are everywhere” the report says, quoting Congress of South African Trade Union’s Zwelinzima Vavi’s statement that many believe that people are listening in to phone conversations.

However, South Africa scored top marks for the fact that entry into and the practice of journalism was legally unrestricted and that websites and blogs were not required to register or get permission from state authorities. The scores dropped in the category: “the right to freedom of expression is practised and citizens, including journalists, are asserting their rights without fear”. In 2008 it was 3.2 and in 2010 it was 2.9.

The advertising market, according to the survey, was not large enough to support a diversity of media outlets: in 2008 this score was 3.9 and in 2010, it dropped to 2.7

There was a significant decrease in adequate competition legislation/regulation to prevent media concentration and monopolies. In 2008 it was 4.7 and in 2010 it was 2.6.

In the same vein, the indictment on broadcasting regulation and its levels of transparency and independence was severe: the 2006 score was 4.6, the 2008 score was 5 and the 2010 score was 3.3.

The scores for “public information is easily accessible, guaranteed by law, to all citizens” was generally low for the three years. In 2006, it was 2.7, in 2008 it was 2.3, and in 2010 2.7.

Regarding the provision that there were “no laws restricting freedom of expression such as excessive official secrets or libel acts, or laws that unreasonably interfere with the responsibilities of media”, the country scores a good 4, but the report says if the Protection of Information Bill is enacted and if a media appeals tribunal is instituted, it would change the picture.

Applying for information in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act of 2002 (Paia) is “cumbersome” and “often requests for information are ignored.

Further, many departments did not appoint information officers as required under the act, the report says.

Mention is made of the Mail & Guardian winning a High Court order in June 2010, which obliged the government to release a report on the 2002 elections in Zimbabwe.

The judge agreed that the release of the report was in the public interest, but government appealed to the Supreme Court of Appeal, lost that appeal in December 2010, and then applied to the Constitutional Court this year. Judgment is pending.

The Secrecy Bill, if enacted, would threaten the gains envisaged in Paia, according to the report.

The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit initiative to develop investigative journalism in the public interest, produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for all our stories, activities and sources of funding.

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Before joining the amaBhungane team in 2017, Micah was the national coordinator for media freedom and diversity at the Right2Know Campaign. He holds a Masters in African Studies from Oxford University and a BA Honours in History from Wits University.

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