'If media freedom is threatened, democracy suffers'

On World Press Freedom Day, South African editors call on country’s politicians to stop interfering in newsroom matters

Hassan Isilow   | 03.05.2021
'If media freedom is threatened, democracy suffers'


The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) has urged the country’s political leaders to stop interfering in operations of newsrooms in a bid to avoid comprising media freedom.

“SANEF is concerned about the continued utterances from senior political leaders naming journalists and interfering in the operations of newsrooms – the heart of the media freedom bulwark,” the body said in a statement Sunday ahead of World Press Freedom Day on Monday.

World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993, following a recommendation adopted at the 26th session of UNESCO’s general conference in 1991. It was a call by African journalists, including key SANEF founder members, who in 1991 produced the landmark Windhoek Declaration.

SANEF said as South Africa prepares for the upcoming local government elections, it is critical for political parties to maintain an arms-length approach when dealing with the media.

“History shows us that when politicians involve themselves in the inner workings of a newsroom – in this case, the public broadcaster – independence is eroded,” the statement said.

The body said in 2021, journalists are facing increased attacks, including imprisonment, torture, and murder. SANEF said if media freedom is threatened, then democracy suffers.

SANEF called for the protection of journalists, saying journalists in South Africa are attacked by criminals, harassed by cyberbullies online, receive death threats and – women journalists especially – are often targeted by party political supporters.

Meanwhile, In Zambia, President Edgar Lungu on Sunday assured journalists of maximum safety during the country’s campaigns for the Aug. 12 general elections.

Marking the World Press Freedom Day, Lungu said his government was committed to promoting a free press in the democratic Southern Africa nation.

He also reminded journalists to remain professional and avoid being swayed by freebies in exchange for biased coverage of politicians.

*James Kunda contributed to this report from Lusaka, Zambia

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