'Totally unacceptable': Ramaphosa laments intimidation of journalists

Intimidation on social media is a threat to media freedom, writes the president

03 May 2021 - 12:24
President Cyril Ramaphosa has spoken out against the intimidation of journalists, which is sometimes accompanied by threats of sexual violence. Ramaphosa said the conduct was 'totally unacceptable' and harmful to SA's media freedom. File photo.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has spoken out against the intimidation of journalists, which is sometimes accompanied by threats of sexual violence. Ramaphosa said the conduct was 'totally unacceptable' and harmful to SA's media freedom. File photo.
Image: GCIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa has spoken out against the intimidation of journalists, sometimes accompanied by threats of sexual violence, which he said was “totally unacceptable” and harmful to media freedom. 

This follows a global report detailing an increase in the number of female journalists who were intimidated on social media last year. He said this was of great concern and should not be allowed, at all cost.  

SA ranked 32nd out of 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, a barometer of the state of media freedom across the globe published by “Reporters Without Borders”. 

The report found that media freedom had deteriorated, there was a decline in public access to information and there were various challenges for news coverage in many countries. 

The index found that media freedom in SA was “guaranteed but fragile”.

“The report notes that while the South African constitution protects freedom and we have an established culture of investigative journalism, a number of impediments still hinder journalists in the performance of their duties. This includes legal injunctions against taking images of national key points or reporting on matters involving state security,”  Ramaphosa said in his weekly newsletter on Monday.  

“It also notes an increase during 2020 of the intimidation of journalists, especially female journalists on social media. Such intimidation is totally unacceptable, but is particularly harmful when it is directed at female journalists and is occasionally accompanied by threats of sexual violence. This is a matter of great concern and cannot be allowed.”

The index also reported that journalism was “totally blocked or seriously impeded” in 73 countries and “constrained” in 59 others.

Ramaphosa praised SA's robust media which had, among other things, uncovered state capture.

“We take great comfort in the knowledge that we have a free, robust media that is able to report without fear or favour about those in power, about the most pressing social issues of our time, and to provide accurate, impartial information to the public. At a time when we are working together to rebuild our economy and our society in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, a robust media is more critical than ever. 

If the media is to remain true to its responsibility to support democracy, our journalists must continue to report without fear or favour on the issues of the day.
President Cyril Ramaphosa

“The South African media has played a pivotal role in uncovering much of what we know today about the true extent of capture of the state by self-serving, corrupt individuals and entities. They sustained their reporting even in the face of intimidation, disinformation and attacks on their person,” he said. 

He again lamented corruption and urged the media to broaden its scope by reporting on social ills faced by many citizens. 

“If the media is to remain true to its responsibility to support democracy, our journalists must continue to report without fear or favour on the issues of the day. Their sustained coverage must include gender-based violence, crime in our communities, and social ills like substance abuse. 

“Our media should provide accurate and impartial information, enabling the public to make informed decisions, to access opportunities and to improve their lives. They should report both the good news and the bad news, the progress we make and the challenges we face.”

The president also warned journalists and media houses against being used to further political agendas. 

“Credibility is key to sustaining trust between journalists and the public. When journalists allow themselves or their platforms to be used to fight political battles or settle scores on behalf of vested interests, their credibility suffers. When media disseminate stories that are inaccurate or that they know to be false, the public loses faith in them.”

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