Tomorrow is Media Freedom Day in South Africa. We mark this day because, on October 19 1977, South Africa’s apartheid government banned three publications and outlawed 17 anti-apartheid groups during the one-day crackdown, which came to be known as Black Wednesday. Since then, the media fraternity has known not to take media freedom for granted.
Yes, the grand old days of apartheid and unashamed, straightforward bans and attacks on the media have slowly disappeared from our horizon, but this does not mean that it has become easy sailing for the media. Far from it, as the year 2020 has demonstrated with its unique and unexpected challenges.
Late last year, the world was hit by a new contagious and deadly virus called Covid-19 and we are still reeling from its effects. So far, it has killed more than 1 million people and infected 39 million across the world.
The media was thrust into the role of educating the public about this novel virus.
Competing with fake news websites, the media had to give an understanding of the science of this enemy, and be the conveyor of messaging from health authorities and experts to try to minimise the spread of Covid-19.
In South Africa, journalists played an important role in exposing how greedy politicians and their business partners sought to take advantage of the pandemic to fill their pockets.
Owing to the vigilance of the media and whistle-blowers, looters were exposed, allowing law enforcements agencies such as the Special Investigating Unit to work on bringing them to book.
A tragedy of the virus was a resulting economic meltdown across the world, which, in turn, wreaked havoc in our industry, shutting news outlets, and throwing journalists and associated media employees into the unemployment queues.