Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
FOURIE, Pieter J. A return to the repression of freedom of speech? Similarities between the apartheid government(s) and the ANC's actions against the media. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2009, vol.49, n.1, pp. 62-84. ISSN 2224-7912.
The purpose of the article is to document recent developments in the relationship between the African National Congress (ANC) government and the South African media. In the article the fear is expressed that there may be a return to the repressive techniques and strategies of the apartheid government(s), despite the fact that the ANC has a far more liberal approach to the role of the media in society. The article starts with a brief introduction to the ANC's Media Charter, which is seen to be the foundation of the Constitutional acceptance of freedom of expression. This is followed by an overview of some of the progressive transformations in the South African media since the ANC assumed political power. The above-mentioned fear is then substantiated with a systematic documentation, firstly, of how the apartheid government(s) has undermined and, secondly, of how the ANC is currently threatening the media with tighter regulation, more control, and with legal action, how it interferes with the independence of the public broadcaster, discredits the media, questions the professionalism of the media, and incites tension within the ranks of journalists. Specific laws under apartheid that are referred to are the dreaded Publication Act of 1974, the Law on Internal Security of 1976, and measures to control the media under the various states of emergencies. Under the ANC the Films and Publications Amendment Bill (2003) and the Bill on the Protection of Information (2008) are cited. As far as interference with the public broadcaster is concerned, references are made to the controversial Broadcasting Amendment Bill (2002) and recent efforts to interfere with the appointment of the SABC board. As far as blaming the media and attacks on the media are concerned, numerous examples from the apartheid government to the ANC are dealt with, ranging from blaming the English and foreign press for misinterpreting the policies of apartheid to the ANC's constant criticism that the media are still mainly white owned and for that reason anti-government. Under both regimes there were efforts to acquire their own media. In this regard reference is made to the Information Scandal under apartheid, as well as recent reports about the ANC trying to purchase Johnnic Communications (2007) and in 2008 the Sowetan. The apartheid government(s) were known for their commissions of enquiry into the press (media), often lasting for several years and resulting in the establishment of regulatory authorities (despite the presence of existing regulatory measures and/or organizations). The ANC now threatens with a Media Appeal Tribunal, despite the existence of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), the Press Ombudsman and the Press Council, and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA). Finally, whereas government under apartheid intentionally or unintentionally created tension between Afrikaans and English speaking journalists, South Africa has recently experienced aflicker of tension between black and white journalists. The article warns that this may cause harm to the solidarity between journalists and that such solidarity is necessary for the well-being of freedom of expression. In conclusion, the article warns that the above-mentioned actions against the media may contribute to increased self-censorship within the media, obviously with devasting effects for the media's task to inform and enlighten the public. The message being that in spite of Constitutional protection, the struggle for freedom of expression is continuing.
Keywords : Freedom of expression; censorship; media regulation; internal media regulation; apartheid; African National Congress; Afrikaans; ideology; role of the media; media law; public broadcaster; media independence.