World

A REFLECTION

World Press Freedom Day: SA drops in international rankings

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Reporters Without Borders has dropped South Africa’s ranking three places after confirming ‘that press freedom has yet to be consolidated in South Africa’.

Trust in the media, as well as media freedom, is becoming more tenuous every day. American President Donald Trump continues to claim negative press as “fake” and news reporters and editors around the world are still being killed for exposing truths, whether they live in countries with or without media freedom.

In 2019, five journalists have been killed while working. Their names are Ahmed Hussein-Suale Divela, Mohamed Ben Khalifa, Rafael Murúa Manríquez, Leonardo Gabriel Hernández and Lyra McKee. The deaths of another five reporters have yet to be linked to their work.

And closer to home, South Africans this week learnt that journalist Shiraaz Mohamed, who was abducted in Syria in January 2017, is alive. A WhatsApp video sent to NGO Gift of the Givers shows South African-born Mohamed alive, begging for help.

In 2018, 54 journalists were killed, a significant increase from 2017, which saw 47 journalists across the world killed. The last officially reported murder of a journalist in South Africa happened in 2014.

In South Africa, World Press Freedom Day arrives after the country’s press freedom index ranking was lowered by Reporters Without Borders. After ranking 28th out of 180 countries in 2017, South Africa is now three spaces lower on the list, coming in at number 31. North Korea is rated 179, while Turkmenistan clinches the bottom spot.

But in 2019, South Africans have borne witness to numerous verbal attacks on journalists, including the publication of journalist and broadcast show host Karima Brown’s cellphone number by EFF leader Julius Malema on Twitter. Brown was subjected to a barrage of verbal and cyber abuse after the tweet, with supporters of Malema and the EFF even threatening her life.

According to Reporters Without Borders, the reasons for South Africa’s drop in status include that “the State Security Agency spies on some journalists and taps their phones. Others are harassed and subjected to intimidation campaigns if they try to cover certain subjects involving the ruling ANC party, government finances, the redistribution of land to the black population or corruption”.

The list of evidence to this effect is long; even then president Jacob Zuma had to tell the country to stop harassing the media back in 2010, when things were simpler.

Today, violations of media freedom are more insidious. The theme of the 2019 World Press Freedom Day Global Conference, hosted in Addis Ababa from 1-3 May, is “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation.”

Considering disinformation has become a huge threat to both the media and democracy — think about the 2016 American election, Brexit and Bell Pottinger — tackling disinformation head-on is the only way to protect media freedom.

On World Press Freedom Day, we remember the hundreds of journalists around the world who have died exposing facts and reporting the truth. DM

There are numerous World Press Freedom Day events taking place in South Africa on Friday 3 May, including a discussion on press freedom hosted in Cape Town by Daily Maverick, with SANEF and Media Monitoring Africa.

If you are interested in preventing the spread of disinformation, check out this video.

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