Media Freedom Day

As we mark the 34th year after 19 October 1977, South Africa through a Parliamentary probing in September 2011, has reflected on the degree and lack of transformation of print media in our country. Also, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications in July 2011 reflected on transformational challenges in the advertising and marketing industry. These interventions assisted in assessing and taking stock of whether all citizens (poor and rich, rural or urban, etc.) have choice and access to information, freedom of expression, right to communication in languages of their choice.
At the Parliamentary discussions, the Print Media of South Africa (PMSA) confirmed the essence of the MDDA report on Trends of Ownership and Control of Media in SA (July 2009) which indicated that the pace of transformation in the print media is too slow for a sector that is so critical in the sustainability of our democracy. PMSA reported that only an average of 14% of ownership of the mainstream print media is in black (historically disadvantaged) hands and women participation in board and senior management is limited to 4.44%. This revelation, 17 years after the first democratic elections in 1994, suggest that all stakeholders honestly and dispassionately confront the question of media transformation and diversity in the interest of all citizens and sustainability of our democracy.

Whereas, South Africans are celebrating legislative guarantees of press freedom, freedom of expression and editorial independence; it became clear after this dialogue that a lot of work is needed and commitment to ensure the majority of South Africans enjoy these rights. South Africa has undergone profound political and economic transformation over the last 16 years, resulting in new and strong political institutions that underpin democracy and a macro economic framework that encourages greater freedom and competition. The Constitution Act No.108 of 1996 protects and provides for the freedom of the media, freedom of expression and access to information. This is further supported by the legislative framework giving effect to the Constitution, including the MDDA Act 14 of 2002, ICASA Act of 2000, Electronic Communications Act of 2005, Broadcasting Act of 1999, Access to Information Act of 2000, etc. including Chapter 9 of the Constitution which sets up institutions to support democracy.

The country has moved from racial discrimination to a non racial democracy where the rights of ordinary citizens are now protected and enshrined in our Constitution which provides a balance between the freedom of expression and the right to dignity and equality. Free speech and a free media are entrenched in the Constitution and the media operate in an environment free of oppression, persecution and the repressive legislation which sought to restrict and control the media. The democratic transition catapulted South Africa into playing a major role not only as a regional economic and political power in Africa, but also an influential player in the emerging markets. However, these political institutional changes have not fully translated into greater access with a diversity of voices reflective of ethnic and racially diverse people, even though we have seen growth and renewed energy in the sector.

It is therefore critical to appreciate the broader context, as we commemorate the 19th October 2011 and celebrating media freedom, to emphasize the significant role media can play in helping people in all their diversity to communicate with each other in order to strengthen our democracy, promote a culture of human rights and enable all to participate fully in our economic growth and speed up transformation and development. Information is knowledge and power.

This can only be achieved if every citizen irrespective of their social class, (where ever located, rural or urban, poor or rich) has access to a choice of a diverse range of media. We should remember that media freedom is for all citizens and not just for media practitioners. Media also provides a window of transparency in government and injects life to a country's economy by publishing financial and market information to citizens, allowing them to participate freely and fruitfully in their country's economy. Access to communication and information empowers citizens, facilitates participatory democracy, and assists in defending, advancing and deepening our democracy.

We must ensure that rural communities have access to all media including radio, television, online, mobile and print services. We must ensure responsible journalism and that our media is transformed to reflect South Africa in every respect. We must also support and create an enabling environment for media development and diversity.

20 Oct 2011 12:45


About the author

Chief Executive Officer, MDDA