President Cyril Ramaphosa has called on the government and the private sector to play their part in supporting the freedom of the press.
In his weekly newsletter to the nation, the President said the country is fortunate to have come a long way since Black Wednesday.
“Both government and the private sector are called upon to play their part in supporting the free press by ensuring its sustainability through advertising, content partnerships and other models.
“As we commemorate Media Freedom Day, we salute our nation’s hardworking journalists, editors and other media workers who continue to fulfil their important role in the service of democracy,” the President said.
On Wednesday, South Africa will observe Media Freedom Day, marking the events of 19 October 1977 and what became known as Black Wednesday.
This was when the apartheid regime banned The World, Weekend World and The Voice newspapers, arrested the legendary The World editor Percy Qoboza and scores of activists and outlawed several Black Consciousness organisations.
The President said media freedom is a fruit of democracy and one every citizen must all jealously safeguard and strive to uphold.
He said this is particularly the case when there are attempts to intimidate, threaten or silence journalists using online and other platforms, which was particularly witnessed during the state capture era.
“What was most disturbing were the attacks directed at female political journalists on social media platforms, using misogynistic terminology and even accompanied by threats of sexual violence.
“Given this regrettable period in our not-too-distant past, it is of concern that we are seeing a resurgence of online and other forms of abuse directed against journalists in our national life.
“The ill-treatment of journalists that is happening in so many parts of the world is something that should not be allowed to happen in South Africa. The media plays an unparalleled role in ensuring there is accountability in our democratic order, so we must all stand firm against any attempts to intimidate or silence journalists,” the President said.
Despite the gains around press freedom, the President noted that this year South Africa’s ranking in the RSF World Press Freedom Index dropped three notches since 2021.
He said that the threat posed by disinformation is another factor that is heavily impacting the state of journalism not just in South Africa but around the world.
“The steady encroachment of disinformation being disseminated online and even by established media outlets is worrying. Its potential to cause harm extends way beyond the confines of an individual consumer of news.
“We witnessed first-hand the devastating impact of this during the 2021 July unrest in several parts of the country, when false information disguised as reportage inflamed tensions between communities and was used to mobilise people to commit criminal acts and even to incite violence,” he said.
In the disinformation age, the President emphasised that the country needs more media, not less.
“The only counter to the proliferation of disinformation is the growth and expansion of credible news media outlets. The only counter to bad journalism rife with political agendas and ‘purging crusades’ is credible, well-trained journalists whose only interest is educating and informing the public,” he said.