President Cyril Ramaphosa has praised South African media for having played a pivotal role in uncovering corruption which is now the subject of the State Capture Commission.
Ramaphosa in his weekly newsletter on Monday, said journalists sustained their reporting even in the face of intimidation, disinformation, and attacks on their lives. He emphasised how we live in a country where not just journalists, but any member of the public is able to freely articulate their views, opinions and dissatisfaction without fear of retribution.
“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 other 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 continue to produce journalism that goes beyond the headlines and front pages and that contributes to human development. They should report both the good news and the bad news, the progress we make and the challenges we face,” said the president.
He said last week when the organisation, Reporters without Borders published the 2021 World Press Freedom Index - a barometer of the state of media freedom across the globe - it was found that there had been a decline in public access to information and an increase in obstacles to news coverage in a number of countries.
The report said that journalism is ‘totally blocked or seriously impeded’ in 73 countries and ‘constrained’ in 59 others.
Ramaphosa said what was worrying was that media freedom had deteriorated under the Covid-19 pandemic, with the various restrictions put in place having seemingly been used to curtail media activity in several places.
He said in this latest report South Africa ranked 32nd out of 180 countries.
The index describes the state of media freedom in South Africa as ‘guaranteed but fragile’.
“It [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,” he said.
“The report 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,” added the President.
He said credibility was key to sustaining trust between journalists and the public.
According to the President when journalists allowed themselves or their platforms to be used to fight political battles or settle scores on behalf of vested interests, their credibility suffers. He said when media disseminate stories that are inaccurate or that they know to be false, the public loses faith in them.
However, Ramaphosa said he took comfort in knowing that the country had a free, robust media that is able to report without fear or favour, about those in power, about the most pressing social issues of the day, 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. 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,” said Ramaphosa.