Media in SA partly free, but improving

2014-05-03 00:00

THE media in South Africa has more freedom today than 20 years ago, but more can be done to ensure press freedom.

This is the message of Jo van Eden, editor of Volksblad, in a seminar on the status of media freedom after 20 years of democracy in South Africa, which was held at the University Stellenbosch yesterday.

The international non-governmental organisation Freedom House measured the press freedom in 197 countries and gave each country a score out of 100. A score between one and 30 shows the media is free.

South Africa scored 33 and is described as “partly free”.

A score of higher than 61 shows that a country has no free press. Zimbabwe’s score was 73.

South Africa’s score — which was 32 in 2010 and 35 last year — had improved slightly this year for the first time in five years. Worldwide, press freedom had fallen to its lowest level in more than a decade. Freedom House blamed the drop on less free media in the Middle East, Turkey, Ukraine and various countries in east Africa, as well as the United States.

The Netherlands, Norway and Sweden share the top spot with a score of 10.

North Korea has the least free press (97), followed by Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan (both at 95), and Eritrea (94).

The U.S. has 21, the UK 23 and Australia 22.

Freedom House said 211 journalists had been jailed worldwide at the end of 2013. More than half of these were in prisons in Turkey (40), Iran (35) and China (32).

In Egypt, Australian journalist Peter Greste, who is being held with four Al-Jazeera colleagues, said their detention in an Egyptian jail had become a powerful symbol of press freedom worldwide.

In a statement from his prison cell on the eve of World Press Freedom Day, Greste said he was “deeply moved and strengthened” by the outpouring of support for his case, which has sparked international condemnation.

Now in his 125th day of detention, Greste has denied charges of spreading false news and supporting the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood movement of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Mursi.

“Our case has become emblematic of the freedom of the press worldwide,” he said.

Four journalists, including Greste, are in custody in Egypt, while several others have been tried in absentia.

“What began as a campaign to put down Islamic militancy has been extended to everyone who in the government’s words ‘spreads the ideology of terror’.

“If by arresting us, the government sought to send a message to journalists, both foreign and local working here, then the campaign for our release has sent an unequivocal response.”

He added that press freedom was now being defended “in a way that would have been unimaginable before our arrest”.

It is International Press Freedom Day today.

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