The ruling African National Congress bridled at news media scrutiny of its record on poverty, crime, and corruption, which raised concerns about the durability of post-apartheid democratic reforms. In June, the government announced a new policy to use state advertising expenditures to reward supportive media outlets. Members of the ANC's youth wing tried to intimidate media outlets that examined the affluent lifestyle and private business dealings of its fiery former leader, Julius Malema. Youth members assaulted journalists covering Malema's appearance at a party hearing convened to discuss his hard-line statements. President Jacob Zuma, who traveled to Libya twice in support of Muammar Qaddafi, was criticized for failing to hold Libyan officials accountable in the case of Anton Hammerl. Loyalist forces killed the South African photojournalist in April, but Libyan officials withheld information about Hammerl's death for many weeks. In October, South African officials acknowledged that police had tapped the phone conversations of journalists Mwazili Wa Afrika and Stephan Hofstatter. The two faced persistent threats and intimidation related to a 2010 story on police corruption. The ANC pushed several restrictive legislative measures, including a bill that would allow officials to classify virtually any piece of government information in the name of "national interest." The National Assembly approved the bill in November, sending it to the National Council of Provinces for consideration in late year.
Assaults against journalists increased sharply in 2011, CPJ research shows. Members of the ANC's Youth League were believed to be responsible for about two-thirds of the assaults.
President Zuma has made a practice of intimidating the press through defamation suits. Although no lawsuits were reported in 2011, local news outlets documented a series of defamation complaints filed by Zuma over the past several years.
Throughout 2011, the ANC Youth League issued statements demonizing the independent press. In at least 10 statements, the youth league accused the private press of unprofessional or unethical activities.
Some salvos from 2011:
June 2011: The youth league accused the South African National Editors Forum of “false reporting and spreading of lies.”
July 2011: A statement accused the independent press of spreading “stupid and pathetic lies about the leadership of the ANC Youth League” after media reported that the group was building a costly residence.
July 2011: Malema called the independent press “illiterate and uneducated” after City Press accused the youth league leader of corruption. Malema sought an injunction to block the story, but City Press was able to rebuff the effort, according to local reports.
October 2011: A statement said the private station Talk 702 and the private daily Sowetan had spread “desperate and disgusting lies.” They had reported that Malema used a vehicle instead of walking with protesters during a protest march.
The National Assembly considered at least four bills in 2011 that would restrict press freedom, according to local journalists and the Media Institute of Southern Africa. Despite heavy local and international criticism, ANC leaders insisted that broad, new media legislation was needed.
Four restrictive bills:
Protection of Information Bill: Often dubbed the “secrecy bill,” it would allow authorities wide discretion to classify information deemed “in the national interest.” Journalists who report on classified information would face up to 25 years in prison.
Protection from Harassment Bill: The measure would bar individuals, including journalists, from pursuing someone in a way vaguely described as unreasonable. The South African National Editors Forum said the legislation could be used to block journalists’ inquiries. A five-year prison penalty was proposed.
Public Services Broadcasting Bill: The measure would provide the government wide powers to regulate broadcast content, local journalists told CPJ. The legislation also obligated community radio stations to partner with local governments, locate their studios at municipal offices, and have government officials serve on their boards.
Independent Communications Authority Act Amendment Bill: Local journalists were concerned the legislation would undermine the independence of the authority, which oversees electronic and broadcast licenses. The proposal would allow the Information Ministry to appoint and evaluate members of the authority.
Internet use has crept upward since 2005, according to the World Bank Development Indicators. With a population of nearly 50 million, though, South Africa offered considerable untapped Internet potential.
Do you believe the free flow of information must be protected? Sign the #RightToReport petition and demand that President Obama immediately:
1. Issue a presidential policy directive prohibiting the hacking and surveillance of journalists and media organizations.
2. Limit aggressive prosecutions that ensnare journalists and intimidate whistleblowers.
3. Prevent the harassment of journalists at the U.S. border.
Or click here to see the full petition, and join leading journalists like Christiane Amanpour, The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the AP Kathleen Carroll, and Arianna Huffington in signing on.