Today marks 40 years since the apartheid state tried to crush Black Consciousness Movements on what is now known as the Black Wednesday. On this day, in the wake of the murder of Steve Bantu Biko in detention, the apartheid Minister of Justice, Jimmy Kruger banned The World and Weekend World newspapers, and the church publication Pro Veritate. At the same time the state moved to shut down 18 Black Consciousness organisations and arrested their leaders. Today, 19th October is marked as the National Media Freedom Day. It reminds us of the lengths to which paranoid, unaccountable and corrupt states will go to suppress dissent.
Black Wednesday also serves to remind us of the vital role that critical journalism has to pay in challenging authoritarianism. Today we can celebrate the pockets of investigative journalists that have exposed abuse of power at the highest levels.
Media Freedom Threats:
While freedom of expression and media freedom are now protected in the Constitution, if we are not vigilant history will repeat itself. Today we see a raft of draft laws that are again laying the basis for repression of the right to communicate. These include the Hate Speech Bill, Film & Publications Board Amendment Act, Cybercrimes Bill, and of course the Secrecy Bill. The prospect of a Media Appeals Tribunal has emerged again. Existing laws like RICA enable the surveillance of everyone - including journalists.
The media in SA today remains dominated by a handful of corporations. The resulting widespread commercialisation and editorial cost cutting drives down the quality of journalism and ensures that the media prioritise the needs of more wealthy urban audiences.
The SABC is by far the largest media corporation - is the only source of media for many in South Africa. The struggle to ensure the SABC functions as an independent public broadcaster saw a victory this week when the High Court ruled that the Minister Of Communications has no place in appointing SABC Executives. But it also suffered a setback when President Jacob Zuma appointed loyalists to lead the new SABC board.
Communities have little, if any, control over community radio stations and community newspapers. Corporate and government influence has eroded the confidence the people had in the public broadcaster. There is maladministration at the MDDA, an agency that is supposed to enable media pluralism in South Africa.
Black Wednesday: Learning from History
Black Wednesday reminds us that a critical and independent media is vital to challenging authoritarianism and speaking truth to power. R2K is committed to protecting the freedom of all media - as well as advancing media transformation to ensure that more South Africans have access to a more diverse media. Without freedom the media will become the lapdogs of a political elite. Without transformation the media remain dominated by economic elites.
To commemorate Black Wednesday this year, R2K in partnership with the Alternative Information Development Centre, Amabhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism, and Workers World Media Productions, will host a panel discussion on Media Freedom at Isivivana Centre in Khayelitsha, Cape Town from 6pm to 8pm. Also on this same day, R2K will also convene a workshop on community media and the upcoming MDDA hearings at Earthlife Africa Boardroom in Johannesburg 9am to 3pm.