Its worlds freedom of the press day and a look at the state of the media in South Africa has enlisted the country among top countries facing huge decline in “media policy developments”.
In a statement released to commemorate World Press Freedom Day 2016, Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) referred to South Africa as one of the progressive countries in Africa that has over the years, enjoyed a well-developed and plural media system with a strong Constitutional backing of the freedom of expression and of the press. However, it said this has changed in the recent times and it blames the ruling ANC for this cause.
According to Misa, the high standing of the freedom of the press is now facing the danger of decline because the governing party, the African National Congress (ANC) has continuously intensified political pressure on the public-run media and clamps down on the commercial media
“Whilst there has been a dramatic increase in the number of access to information laws on the continent – 19 to date – the right to access information on issues that affect people’s livelihoods remains beyond the grasp of the majority of African people‚” the watchdog noted.
Pointing out the diverse areas where these decline is increased, the report noted that the proposed bills which is hoped to address media related issues, has clauses that encroach on fundamental rights such as access to information‚ freedom of expression‚ media freedom and protection of privacy.
These bills include the Broadcasting Amendment Bill, the Films and Publications Amendment Bill, the Cybersecurity and Cybercrimes Bill and the hotly debated Protection of State Information Bill which has been dubbed the Secrecy Bill.
“The tightening of their grip on the media sector encompasses encroachment on the editorial independence of the public broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), which intensified in 2015, with the gazetting of the Broadcasting Amendment Bill which seeks to give the Minister of Communications immense powers to hire and fire SABC Board members, including the Chairperson” Misa noted
In one of its recent criticism of the media, the ANC reportedly lashed out on the media for paying much attention on the party’s attendance during during its gathering
This came after ANC supporters filled only about two-thirds of the 46,000-seat Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth for the launch of the ANC’s August 3 local government elections manifesto two weeks ago.
ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa said that the “preoccupation” with the numbers of people attending the party events were a new “stadiumology”.
“Commentator after commentator was wheeled out onto national television to extrapolate on what these no-shows meant for the future of the governing party,” Kodwa said.
“In column after column the words of ANC officials explaining the reasons for the low-turnout were dissected, taken apart, and rubbished. The ANC is long accustomed to the commentariat and intelligentsia in South Africa greeting anything the ANC says or does with scorn, cynicism, and mockery.”
However, Misa reported that the “assault on the media was extended to the print media‚ with the ANC resuscitating calls for regulation‚ with several party leaders attacking the media for lack of transformation and for being anti-ANC”.
Pointing out other pressing issue faced by the media in south Africa, Misa said south Africa’s security agencies play a more visible role in policing different actors such as activists, unionists, journalists and political figures.
“As South Africa heads for crucial local elections in 2016, increasing restrictions on fundamental freedoms are expected.”
It said the forth coming National Municipal elections will be a test on the popularity of the governing ANC even as the party is beginning to loose support in some municipalities.
“The stakes will be very high in this election and as such the role of the media will be of high importance. 2016 is also set to be a year of economic hardship and raised political risks” it concluded.