Media freedom in SA in a far better position now

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) on Wednesday joined media houses and advocacy groups around the country in commemorating Black Wednesday.

Black Wednesday is the day in October 1977 when then Minister of Justice, Jimmy Kruger, ordered the arrest of editors and several anti-apartheid newspapers such as the World and the Weekend World as well as the banning of 19 Black Consciousness organisations.

Several events were held on Monday and more will be held later in the month.

SANEF noted that although South Africa is in a far better position in terms of media freedom compared to those dark apartheid days, the media industry still faces serious challenges, including journalists being harassed by police and communities when covering protests.

On Friday, for instance, the SABC news journalist Reginald Witbooi was threatened by ANC members in Senekal during a LIVE crossing.

A number of other journalists were also harassed by EFF supporters including, Graeme Raubenheimer, also from the SABC and News 24’s Pieter Du Toit.

Since the Senekal case started, Citizen journalist, Marizka Coetzer and photographer, Tracy-Lee Stark, were assaulted and their equipment damaged when a crowd of approximately 1 000 farmers protested outside the court against the murder of a 21-year-old Brendin Horner on Tuesday afternoon.

SANEF chairperson, Sbusiso Ngalwa, said a lot more work still needs to be done to educate all sectors of society about the crucial role the media plays in strengthening democracy.

Ngalwa also pointed out the serious financial problems faced by the sector.

“With COVID-19, we have seen publications close down, we have seen companies announcing mass retrenchments and we have seen no less than 700 journalists losing their jobs during this period.

“So, the reduction in the number of journalists and media houses has a direct influence and direct threat to efforts to spread the news and ensure a free flow of information,” Ngalwa said.

The impact of COVID-19 on the media sector led to SANEF establishing a Media Relief Fund, which was launched in July to assist journalists financially. 

“We are happy to report that due to the goodwill of individuals and donors and the generosity of corporate South Africa, the Fund is a few thousand rand short of R5 million, SANEF has so far raised R4 870 067,” he said.

The initial seed funding of R500 000 was contributed by MTN SA. Standard Bank and the Open Society Foundation for South Africa (OSF-SA) are the latest two organisations to contribute a million rand.

SANEF used the first phase to offer emergency relief to pay out a total of R1 135 000.00 to 227 beneficiaries.

The second phase closed on 30 September and is currently under adjudication. SANEF will launch the third phase shortly.

With further funding, SANEF is hoping to support other projects to assist the sustainability of small, independent media institutions across the country, through a variety of targeted interventions. –

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