Speakers at the World Press Freedom Day seminar agreed that journalism is under threat from both political and economic influences.
As part of World Press Freedom Day, the Right2Know campaign (R2K) organised a seminar in Cape Town to discuss the state of media in South Africa. The lack of funding for community media and spying on journalists were among the issues raised.
Asanda Ngoasheng from the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) said that the media is under economic pressure. “People are no longer buying the newspapers, they are also not paying for paywall and advertisers are no longer paying for adverts,” she said. This has led to the juniorisation of the newsroom as senior staff leave for better employment prospects. “You have young journalists going into the communities to cover stories without the help of senior journalists,” said the former CPUT lecturer.
Another factor that is affecting media in South Africa according to Ngoasheng is the lack of diversity. “Print media in this country is monolingual – it’s either in English or in Afrikaans. This makes it difficult for most people to consume,” she said.
Axolile Notywala from the Social Justice Campaign said that protests are a form of participatory democracy and therefore communities should never be getting permission to participate.
Notywala told the gathering that he believes that there is nothing like a violent protest. “You have a protest and then you have violence. The everyday violence that people face and then there is damage to property that sometimes happens. We need to sensitise journalists that there is nothing like an illegal protest. The Constitutional Court has ruled that out,” said Notywala. He was referring to the court ruling, delivered on 19 November 2018 against a 1993 law which permitted criminal penalties, including fines and up to one year’s imprisonment, for failure to give proper notice to the authorities of a planned gathering of 15 or more people.
Ghalib Galant from Right2Know said that journalists need to ask themselves whose truth do they they speak to power. “Journalists close the space for themselves when they become subjective or use a language that reveals their biases. Also the communities make it difficult for the journalists to share information when they are constantly under attack for writing certain stories,” said Galant.
Surveillance of journalists is also of increasing concern with the illegal spying on a Mail & Guardian journalist after “investigating corruption allegations at the railway safety regulator” the most recent revelation of ongoing surveillance. The SABC too monitors its journalists. “The SABC has requested many of their journalists to submit their ID copies for the vetting process in terms of section 2A (1)(b)(ii) of the National Strategic Intelligence Act. Following resistance and opposition from a number of organisations, the SABC has decided to put the process on hold whilst seeking legal advice. We believe this is extremely intrusive and a blatant abuse of the National Key Points Act, which continues to be applied to SABC buildings.”