Defend Truth

WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY

SA media freedom on the rise despite scourge of threats from police and political bodies

SA media freedom on the rise despite scourge of threats from police and political bodies
A woman holds a sign during a protest held by journalists and members of the Turkish Journalists Union to mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2017 in Istanbul, Turkey. In a statement released by the United Nations, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said "Journalists go to the most dangerous places. Media workers suffer character assassination, sexual assault, injuries and even death and we need leaders to defend a free media." In Turkey, since the failed coup attempt and the following introduction of a state of emergency more than 200 media outlets have been shut down and more than 170 journalist detained. (Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Press freedom is seriously threatened in 31 countries, the 2023 World Press Freedom Index indicates. While the rankings of several nations have fallen, South Africa’s press freedom ranking is up 10 spots.

The 2023 World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), indicates that press freedom is in a “very serious” situation in 31 nations. 

The World Press Freedom Index surveys press freedom, access to information and obstacles to press coverage in 180 countries annually. According to RSF secretary general, Christophe Deloire, the 2023 Index shows “enormous volatility in situations, with major rises and falls and unprecedented changes…”

This instability is the result of increased aggressiveness on the part of the authorities in many countries and growing animosity towards journalists on social media and in the physical world,” Deloire continued. 

This year marks the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day, commemorated globally on 3 May.  

Norway is ranked first in the World Press Freedom Index for the seventh year running, with a “robust” legal framework that safeguards freedom of the press. Curiously, a non-Nordic country is ranked second this year, namely Ireland, followed by Denmark. 

South Africa is ranked 25th on the Index, one notch above the United Kingdom. Our press freedom ranking is up 10 spots from 2022. 

We have a “well-established culture of investigative journalism,” according to the RSF, and our media “do not hesitate to reveal scandals involving powerful figures”.

Read in Daily Maverick: Lest We Forget: Digital Vibes, two years on — Zweli Mkhize & Co still free, probe ‘ongoing’

While we enjoy a great deal of media freedom, our journalists are often “subjected to verbal attacks from political leaders and activists,” said RSF. 

Political tension, at times, gives rise to “disinformation or smear campaigns” against media outlets, particularly on social media, it added. 

“The ruling African National Congress (ANC) has at times resorted to such campaigns, but those waged by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), one of the opposition parties, are by far the most virulent. Its leaders and supporters do not hesitate to incite violence and accuse certain journalists of racism.”

 

Still deemed as “satisfactory” by the RSF, the US is down three spots from last year and is ranked 45th on the Index. 

Ukraine is ranked 79th on the Index, falling into the “problematic” bracket. The war launched by Russia in February 2022, the RSF said, “threatens the survival of Ukrainian media”. 

“In this ‘information war’, Ukraine stands at the front line of resistance against the expansion of the Kremlin’s propaganda system.”

World Press Freedom Day

Moldovan journalists attend a flash-mob for an independent media and against killings of journalists, in front of the Russian Embassy in Chisinau, Moldova, on World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE/Dumitru Doru)

Dire straits

The World Press Freedom Index recorded an unprecedented 31 countries to be in a “very serious” situation. Three countries: Tajikistan, India and Turkey, dropped from being in a “problematic” situation into the lowest, “very serious”, category. 

In years past, the number of countries in this bracket had been fewer with 28 countries bearing the title in 2022, and 21 in 2021. Among the offenders are Pakistan at 150 on the Index, Belarus at 157, and Russia at 164. 

Russia, which had already dropped in the rankings last year after the invasion of Ukraine, dropped another nine places. According to the RSF, since the invasion of Ukraine, almost all independent media in Russia have been “banned, blocked and/or declared ‘foreign agents’ or ‘undesirable organisations’. All others are subject to military censorship.”

The RSF noted that, in addition to heavy sentences and even torture suffered by some journalists, the frequent use of fines and short-term detentions, “have been added to the arsenal of systematic intimidation used against journalists” in Russia. The RSF noted the Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who has been detained in the country since 30 March on espionage charges that he and the publication firmly deny. 

Evan Gershkovich, press freedom

WSJ correspondent Evan Gershkovich attends a court hearing of the Moscow City Court where they consider the demand of his defence to cancel his arrest, in Moscow, Russia, 18 April 2023. Evan Gershkovich is a US journalist at The Wall Street Journal covering Russia. He was detained in Yekaterinburg on 29 March. Russia’s Federal Security Service claimed that on the instructions of the American authorities, the journalist collected information constituting a state secret about one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex. He is charged under Article 276 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation – Espionage, which provides for imprisonment of up to 20 years. (Photo: EPA-EFE/Maxim Shipenkov)

The RSF recorded that 546 journalists have been detained worldwide as of Wednesday, 3 May. Six journalists were reportedly killed worldwide since 1 January 2023. 

 

According to the RSF, journalists are “rarely arrested” in South Africa but law enforcement sometimes fails to protect them when they are exposed to violence. 

It said that the safety of journalists who expose “the endemic corruption” in the country, “is threatened by the politicians involved, their associates and their supporters”.

A growing and concerning trend, the RSF said, is police violence against journalists in South Africa but, more particularly, state security agency surveillance of investigative journalists. 

The last three places on the Index are occupied solely by Asian nations. Vietnam occupies the 178th position, and China continues to rank among the Index’s worst performers — holding the 179th place — because of government censorship and repression against journalism and control over information. North Korea is at the bottom of the Index at 180. DM

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