SA marks World Press Freedom Day

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Pretoria - The National Press Club has called on government to ensure that press freedom is upheld and that journalists are allowed to do their jobs without interference, intimidation, abuse or harassment.

In a statement marking World Press Freedom Day on Tuesday, the club also called on the Libyan government to immediately release South African photographer, Anton Hammerl, and other journalists.

The United Nations General Assembly declared 3 May to be World Press Freedom Day to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

World Press Freedom Day also marks the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek, a statement of free press principles put together by African newspaper journalists in 1991.

National Press Club chairman, Yusuf Abramjee, said: "The continued detention of our colleagues in Libya is worrying.

"We again appeal to the South African government to assist to pressurise Libya to release Hammerl. It's now going for three weeks and as we mark World Press Freedom Day, Hammerl and others who are in detention are in our thoughts and prayers.

"I've recently had discussions with Libya's ambassador to South Africa, Dr Abdoola Al-Zubedi, who promised to assist. We hope to meet him this week again to follow-up and see what, if any, progress has been made.

"Journalists should be allowed to do their work without any fear, intimidation, abuse, harassment or detention. In many parts of the world, members of the media are targeted and we condemn this in the strongest terms," said Abramjee.

The club also paid tribute to reporters who have been killed in the line of duty. "Many have lost their lives and on this occasion, we again remember them and we salute them."

Abramjee said media freedom had to be protected. "Any laws that will hamper us in what we do will be strongly opposed."

"We appeal to newspapers to have some open white spaces on their pages tomorrow as part of World Freedom Day to show readers what can and will happen if we are censored or silenced. Radio and TV stations should also dedicate a few seconds of 'dead air' to create awareness around media clampdowns," he said.

Abramjee said there have been a number of worrying incidents where journalists have been intimidated and threatened with arrest and in some cases, even arrested while doing their job.

"We will continue to raise our concerns with the police leadership. We must be allowed to work freely," he said.

He reiterated the need for the media to be fair, balanced and independent.

"We must ensure that we pride ourselves on accuracy and on balanced reporting. If and when we err, we must be bold enough to apologise with the same prominence as the original report. Journalists have to be bold and fearless. We must continue to expose wrongdoing at every turn. We must be the watchdogs for society," said Abramjee.