CPJ urges respect for media freedom in South Africa

Hlaudi Motsoeneng
Chief Operating Officer
South African Broadcasting Corporation
Auckland Park
South Africa

July 14, 2014

Via email

Dear Sir,

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide, is writing to express its concern at recent statements against media freedom that you made at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

On July 3, at the annual Joburg Radio Days event, you said South African media should be more regulated and that journalists should have a license to practice their work. Your comments came a few days before you were permanently appointed to the role of chief operations officer of the South African Broadcasting Corporation, the national broadcaster whose radio and TV services reach the furthest corners of the country.

South Africa must not become a country to which repressive governments can point in their efforts to legitimize press freedom violations. CPJ research shows that repressive governments use licensing as a way to suppress critical reporting.

The right to express opinions and share information is guaranteed universally under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, under Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, and by South Africa’s Constitution (Article 16). The right to “freedom of the press and other media” and the freedom “to receive or impart information or ideas” are in Chapter 2 of South Africa’s constitution, which states that the “Bill of Rights is a cornerstone of democracy in South Africa. It enshrines the rights of all people in our country and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom.”

The notion of licensing journalists has been tried before–and rejected. In 1985, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights examined a case in Costa Rica and found that freedom of expression, unlike the practice of a profession, is a fundamental human right. The court also found that giving licenses to some journalists and denying them to others denies individuals “the full use of the mass media as a means of expressing themselves or imparting information.”

Media freedom is a critical element in the fabric of the new society currently under construction in South Africa. In just two decades, the repressive, racist system of apartheid has given way to a multi-party, non-racial democracy that thrives on the contestation of ideas.

We believe that, in Nelson Mandela’s words, “a critical, independent, and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favor.”

As longtime advocates for media freedom in South Africa, which stretches back to our support for journalists persecuted by the apartheid regime in the early 1980s, CPJ urges you to nurture the country’s hard-won freedom and the role of lively, critical, and courageous media. It is the job of journalists to ask questions on behalf of citizens and to hold accountable those in power so that the benefits of democracy and development are shared equally among all communities.

Yours sincerely,

Joel Simon
Executive Director

CC List:

Faith Muthambi, minister of communications in South Africa

Joyce Clementine Moloi-Moropa, chairwoman of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications

Gwede Mantashe, Secretary General of the African National Congress

Joe Thloloe, director of the Press Council

Mthatha Tsedu, executive director of South African National Editors Forum

Katy Katopodis, secretary-general of South African National Editors Forum

Gavin Davis, shadow minister of communications of the Democratic Alliance

Marion Shin, shadow minister of telecommunications and postal services, Democratic Alliance

Mbuyiseni Quintin Ndlozi, national spokesman of the Economic Freedom Fighters

Marka Weinberg, national coordinator of Right2Know Campaign