World Association of News Publishers

WAN-IFRA Board Press Freedom Resolution - South Africa, June 2017

WAN-IFRA Board Press Freedom Resolution - South Africa, June 2017

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The Board of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), meeting in Durban, South Africa on 7th June, 2017, calls for renewed global solidarity with the South African press in the wake of threats to independent, free media.

The Board of WAN-IFRA notes with concern that a decade after the Declaration of Table Mountain was adopted by the 14th World Editors Forum Conference in Cape Town, conditions for media freedom in South Africa have deteriorated, with the government considering a range of measures that will intimidate the press, promote self-censorship and silence criticism.

The Board notes the on-going assault on independent media, in which new legislation is being drafted to target the press, and recognizes with increasing alarm the shrinking space for independent journalism, including through the State Security Agency, state advertisement spending, and overt commercialization.

The Board of WAN-IFRA regrets to acknowledge the Cybercrime Bill currently before the South African Parliament, the draft of which continues to include vague language that affords opportunity for repressive implementation, as well as enhanced investigative and surveillance powers for security agents. In its current form, the Bill establishes “reasonable suspicion” for use of encryption, and empowers officials to obtain decryption keys to "search for, access or seize" articles pursuant to a search warrant.

The Board denounces the Cybercrime Bill’s assault on the right to digital privacy, which remains central to the basic tenets of media freedom, and stands in solidarity with the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism, that is challenging the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-related Information Act (RICA). Moreover, the recent revelations of possible use of Section 205 of the Criminal Procedure Act to bypass legal process for surveillance promotes self censorship and constrains journalists’ ability to conduct their work.

The Board notes with further grave concern that South Africa’s proposed Cybercrime Bill may also reverse burden of proof requirements, which would force journalists to prove their innocence, and establish harsh penalties of up to 10 years in prison or 10 million Rand for non-compliance. Sections 16 and 17 of the Bill include regulations that would criminalize certain use of social media. The Board is dismayed to have observed South African authorities efforts, including remarks in March 2017 by State Security Minister David Mahlobo, to demonize free use of social media, a form and tool of journalism and free expression.

The Board recognizes with equal concern other prospective legislation that may be used to further erode press freedom in South Africa. Notably, the draft Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill, which would criminalize "bringing contempt and ridicule" onto figures of authority and the Film & Publication Board Amendment Bill, which broadens state power to censor content. The Board further notes the possibility that the Secrecy Bill could yet be signed into law.

The Board welcomes the commitment by the governing African National Congress, to decriminalize defamation and urges it to fast-track legislation to effect this as a matter of urgency. This would be in line with the 2010 resolution by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which states: “Criminal defamation laws constitute a serious interference with freedom of expression and impede the role of the media as a watchdog, preventing journalists and media practitioners [from] practising their profession without fear and in good faith.”

The Board is outraged by the attacks by police on journalists covering protests, including violations of Standing Order 156 allowing journalists to photograph and film police. The Board similarly notes the death threats levelled at City Press's Sipho Masondo and Sunday Times’ Mzilikazi wa Africa, as well as the on-going investigation into the murder of journalist Godknows Nare’s and routine threats against reporters, including community media publications, especially following coverage of government corruption. Journalists should not be obstructed in any way from investigating and reporting on political events and other matters of accountability.

The Board is concerned by the low compliance with South Africa’s Promotion of Access to Information Act, with denial of 46 and 67 percent of requests by the public and private sector respectively.

The Board has followed with mounting concern the suffocation of independent and critical media through Government Communication and Information System’s withdrawal of advertising spending, and the opaque allocation processes for state financial resources to media. The Board of WAN-IFRA supports efforts to have the Department of Communications disclose ad spending information, and the active maintenance of editorial independence despite politically and commercially driven managerial interference in editorial process.  

The Board of WAN-IFRA reminds South Africa of its obligations as a signatory to international conventions regarding freedom of expression, and it unequivocally calls on South Africa’s international partners to do more to pressure South African authorities into guaranteeing an environment that better protects media freedom and the independence of journalists.


Andrew Heslop's picture

Andrew Heslop


2017-06-02 00:22

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In countless countries, journalists, editors and publishers are physically attacked, imprisoned, censored, suspended or harassed for their work. WAN-IFRA is committed to defending freedom of expression by promoting a free and independent press around the world. Read more ...