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9.02.2010

Freedom of Expression Endangered in South Africa

The post-Apartheid South African press and media have traditionally been vigorous. They have frequently criticized the government as well as opposition groups. The press and media there can sometimes be a bit sensationalistic (hardly unique to South Africa of course). But it's fair to say that the country's press freedom has been good overall. This may be changing.

The ANC government of President Zuma has proposed a Protection of Information Bill. It would apparently allow government agency heads to categorize certain types of information as in the "national interest" and impose penalties on publishers or others who disclose the material. The ANC has also pushed to establish a tribunal that would monitor the print media. There's little doubt that the ANC actions come from annoyance over reports criticizing Zuma and the government. But this is not the right approach. One reporter was even arrested for fraud shortly after publishing an article criticizing the national police chief. The New York Times has a good summary of developments: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/23/world/africa/23safrica.html

The South African based blog Constitutionally Speaking has even more details: http://constitutionallyspeaking.co.za/why-steven-friedman-is-wrong/ Fortunately, the leading South African trade union group (COSATU) has expressed reservations and is an important political entity connected to the ANC. It would certainly be ironic if the party that helped lead liberation in South Africa imposed such draconian restrictions. Hopefully, it won't happen.

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