SA government 'working together with oppressive media regimes'

Cape Town - South Africa has media agreements with countries which, according to the international press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders, practice press censorship and oppress independent media.

Reporters Without Borders was specifically referring to what it called the "planet's leading censor and press freedom predator," China and Russia, which it said practiced "draconian laws" to oppress independent media.

DA MP Veronica van Dyk asked communications minister Ayanda Dlodlo if South Africa entered into any media agreements between the government and the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation.

According to Dlodlo's written answer, distributed on Tuesday, SAnews (South African Government News Agency) has a news-sharing agreement with the Xinhua News Agency, the official press agency of the People's Republic of China.

The agreement was entered into in 2005, when SAnews still operated under the name BuaNews.

"Under the agreement, SAnews is welcome to use any material, including articles and pictures, published on the Xinhua news website, free of charge," reads Dlodlo's answer.

"Reciprocally, Xinhua, is welcome to use any material published on the SAnews website at no cost."

The agreement also allows both parties to assist correspondents that visit each other's countries on a journalistic assignment.

The agreement also affords both parties the opportunity for exchange visits.

'Pave' the way

The deal with Russia has been concluded as recently as March this year, when Faith Muthambi was still communications minister.

"SAnews has a news-sharing agreement with Russia's Sputnik news agency," said Dlodlo.

"Under the agreement, SAnews is welcome to use any news articles published on the Sputnik news website, free of charge. Reciprocally, Sputnik, is welcome to use any material published on the SAnews website at no cost."

“The agreement sees the two news agencies developing a bilateral professional relationship in information sharing as they strengthen cooperation between South Africa and Russia as part of the Intergovernmental Committee on Trade and Economic Cooperation (ITEC).

“Both the above-mentioned news cooperation agreements fall under the association of the five major emerging economies - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS).

“These agreements not only benefit South Africa, but the entire BRICS network as they try to fit into the patterns of information flow in the global media.

“They pave the way for member countries to better understand each other and provide insights into complex developments, history, traditions and culture," said Dlodlo.

'Foreign agents'

Reporters Without Borders ranks Russia as the 148th worst country for press freedom out of 180 countries, and China is listed at 176 in its 2017 Press Freedom Index.

South Africa is rated at 31 and press freedom is described as fragile.

According to Reporters Without Borders pressure on an independent media has grown since Vladimir Putin's return to the Kremlin in 2012 with "draconian laws and website blocking".

"Leading independent news outlets have either been brought under control or throttled out of existence.

“As TV channels continue to inundate viewers with propaganda, the climate has become increasingly oppressive for those who try to maintain quality journalism or question the new patriotic and neo-conservative.

“More and more bloggers are receiving prison sentences for their activity on online social networks. The leading human rights NGOs have been declared 'foreign agents'," reads the Reporters Without Borders' report on Russia.

In terms of China, it said, "Chinese President Xi Jinping, is the instigator of policies aimed at complete hegemony over news coverage and the creation of an international media order heavily influenced by China.

"In 2015 and 2016, many citizen journalists, bloggers, and human rights activists, including foreign ones, were arrested and forced into confession. In violation of the 'fundamental right to due process,' these confessions were broadcast by the state TV news broadcaster, CCTV, and were reported by the state-owned New China news agency. More than 100 journalists and bloggers are currently detained."


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