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Media under siege in South Africa

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I recently attended a press conference held in Grahamstown in which the topic was the proposed Protection of Information Bill and Media tribunal. The question being addressed “is  the media under siege?” There was a panel made up of various authorities including a member of the ANC  regional executive Mabhuti Matyunza.

Many people perceive that the ANC is putting a “squeeze on the media” and the introduction of the Protection of Information Bill would enable the government to prevent corruption from being exposed.

One of the panellists convincingly argued that that the things we want to keep secret are those things we are ashamed of, not the things we are proud of. He further argued that the government are in fact our employees. They are spending our money; they are elected by us to represent us. “I hope you like your ministers cars coz you pay for them!”

Many of the panellists agreed that the Protection of Information Bill would be taking South Africa back to the apartheid era. I completely agree with this argument as the Promotion of Information Act that was implemented post apartheid was put in place to prevent government from being corrupt. It was put in place in order to prevent and expose corruption. With the introduction of this Bill it will become almost impossible to expose corruption.

Another panellist commented that what you need for a “Healthy Public Sphere” is an opinionated society. We see the importance of this when we look at Zimbabwe where many ministers are able to get away with corruption because there is no freedom of expression. Does South Africa want to head down the same road as Zimbabwe where they will live under the complete control of government?

I was shocked at the attitudes of the ANC in response to the outcry against the proposed Protection Of Information Bill. President Jacob Zuma said something along the lines of we are the people who brought media freedom to this country you cannot tell us about media freedom. This statement sounds remarkably similar to the ideology Mugabe expresses when he argues that ZANU-PF liberated Zimbabwe and therefore they can do as they wish. Mabhuti Mtyunza the ANC regional executive seemed to avoid the issue being discussed and continued with his own agenda of how the ANC has done so much for the country. He argued that the media is “denting” and “destroying the country” and “working for the opposition” and as a result needs to be “monitored and guided”.

Does South Africa not realise that the platform of democracy is freedom of the press and freedom of expression. South Africa seems to have failed to learn from Zimbabwe’s mistakes, once there is no freedom of press corruption thrives and ministers are able to exploit resources as well as people.

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