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World Press Freedom Day marked as threats and harassment of journalists in SA continue

03 May 2022 - 00:01 By TimesLIVE
World Media Freedom Day is marked in SA this year as five organisations go public with their concerns about ongoing threats, surveillance and attacks on journalists doing their jobs, with police and politicians the worst offenders. File photo.
World Media Freedom Day is marked in SA this year as five organisations go public with their concerns about ongoing threats, surveillance and attacks on journalists doing their jobs, with police and politicians the worst offenders. File photo.
Image: Macor / 123RF Stock Photo

World Press Freedom Day —  the annual event marked on May 3 to remind governments around the world of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom — is a time of reflection among media professionals.

This year Amnesty International SA, Campaign for Free Expression, Committee to Protect Journalists, Media Monitoring Africa, and the SA National Editors’ Forum said SA is facing several threats to freedom of expression.

These include attacks on journalists by police, political parties and the public; online threats targeting journalists such as hate speech, harassment, and doxxing (publicly revealing previously private personal information about an individual or organisation, usually via the internet); the surveillance of journalists by state intelligence; overly punitive legislation that targets journalists or limits their ability to report, and; the ongoing vulnerability of senior journalists at the public broadcaster.

“All of these are restricting the right to free expression in the country and could potentially limit the right of the public to access information in the public interest. These issues must be properly addressed by the state to prevent a weakening of free expression in the country,” the organisations said in a joint statement.

Last month the five organisations made a joint submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) focusing on SAs compliance with international human rights obligations related to freedom of opinion and expression. The UPR is a review of the human rights records of all UN member states held every four years.

In the past five years there have been at least 59 separate incidents in which journalists working in the field in SA have been assaulted or verbally and physically harassed, preventing them from doing their work

“Our submission details concerns over a number of issues, notably the physical attacks on and harassment of journalists, online attacks and surveillance of journalists, ‘false news’ and editorial interference at the SABC,” read the statement.

“While the media in SA enjoys more freedom than many of their counterparts on the continent and in other parts of the world, they find themselves facing a barrage of attacks daily, physically and online. Trust in the media has also waned over the past few years, especially because of misinformation and disinformation.”

In the past five years there have been at least 59 separate incidents in which journalists working in the field have been assaulted or verbally and physically harassed, preventing them doing their work. The main perpetrators are police, political parties and groups and their supporters, communities where reporting occurs and criminals.

“These attacks restrict the ability of journalists to perform their tasks properly, and therefore have direct consequences for freedom of the media and freedom of expression in SA” the organisations said, expressing concern that attacks on the media speak of an underlying lack of understanding and acceptance of the importance of a free media and the deliberate attempts made by politicians, including cabinet ministers, to undermine the media.”

The organisations said they were concerned about attacks on journalists having a chilling effect on their willingness to do their job well, or lead to self-censorship as there is no easy recourse to justice for victims.

“We have raised concern about reports of persisting state surveillance of journalists by the police’s Crime Intelligence division, with the latest incidents reported as recently as March 2021. This is despite the Constitutional Court declaring the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-related Information Act (or Rica) unconstitutional,” the statement claimed.

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