Reflecting on 30 years of media freedom

Media Monitoring Africa Head of Programmes Thandi Smith has recognised government’s role in supporting and promoting media freedom while reflecting of the 30 years of media freedom in the country.

“We can be confident in celebrating the gains that we have made. The 2023 World Press Freedom Index has shown that South Africa ranks 25 out of 180 countries in terms of a free press, which is something to celebrate,” Smith said on Wednesday.

The 21st edition of the World Press Freedom Index, which is compiled annually by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), evaluates the environment for journalism in 180 countries and territories.

Addressing a webinar reflecting on the 30 years of community media in South Africa, she said Namibia is the only African country that is ahead of South Africa, ranked at 22.

“In the continent we are in the top two of the most free media countries. Government has had an important role to play in promoting and supporting the free media that we do enjoy in South Africa,” Smith said.

As part of commemorating Media Freedom Day, the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) hosted a webinar reflecting on the 30 years of community media in South Africa.

While government’s efforts of creating an environment for a free media are being recognised, Smith cautioned government against reversing the gains that have been made.

She mentioned that the sustainability and lack of funding for community media was a threat to media freedom.

“The importance of community media cannot be challenged. It is one of the three tiers of the media that plays a critical role in the country. We are also seeing that we are taking a few steps back in supporting and promoting the media freedom that we have enjoyed over the years.

“We are backsliding in terms of the legislation and regulation being drafted at the moment that is clamping down on those gains in the sense of media freedom. This is reflected in the recently publicised SABC Bill and the White Paper,” she said.

The SABC Bill among other things proposes reducing the size of non-executive Board members from 12 to 11 and the executive members from three to two. It revised the governance structure and funding model of the SABC.

The Draft White Paper on Audio and Audiovisual Content Services Policy Framework: A New Vision for South Africa 2020 sets out new mechanisms to regulate audio and audiovisual content services.

Smith expressed concern at the lack of funding of the SABC.

“The lack of funding around the public broadcaster is an issue. In South Africa, you need a sustainable public broadcaster in order to counter misinformation. A sustainable public broadcaster is of utmost important. When we talk about media freedom, it comes with the issue of credibility. Credibility and media freedom go hand in hand,” she said.

Alex FM Station Manager Takalane Nemangowe called for an improvement in the working relationship between government and community media.

With government’s commitment to push through the 30% quota for advertising spend as a set aside for community media, he called for this to be implemented.

“The day that that commitment is met, part of our problems as a sector are going to be resolved. If government utilises community media to share its message, our problems will be solved,” Nemangowe said.

He said the sector is faced with challenges of access to funding to ensure sustainability, ability to retain staff and compensate staff with a stipend and lack of resources.

“We need to engage and find each other. We need to meet each other halfway and assist each other and get our people to benefit from government’s content. There is a lot of good that government is doing. Government must work with us, we do have people who listen to us and read our content,” Nemangowe said. –

Source: South African Government News Agency