The chorus of voices opposing the South African government's proposed Protection of Information Bill and state-backed ombudsman continue to grow. South Africa's Business Day estimates the press produces three articles per day opposing what many journalists see as an attempt by the ruling party to muzzle investigative reporting. More than 30 editors from major papers published protest messages mid-month calling on the government to abandon the planned legislation. But the South African media has yet to coordinate a mass protest comparable to that successfully orchestrated by Kenyan journalists in 2007 against the country's media bill. And President Jacob Zuma, infamous for issuing defamation suits against a critical South African press, may not back down easily in the face of public criticism.
As heads of state gathered last week at the summit of the Southern African Development Community, or SADC, in Namibia, their discussions were dominated by the progress of Zimbabwe's precarious power-sharing political agreement, which includes pledges to address a repressive media environment. Leading the mediation in the Zimbabwean crisis has been neighboring South Africa, which has been seen as a one-eyed man among the blind in terms of democracy and press freedom in Southern Africa. Yet the moral authority of South African president Jacob Zuma in Zimbabwe's situation is undermined by proposals of his African National Congress-led government to restrict the vibrant press in South Africa.
On August 17, 2010, two men barged into the offices of the Awramba Times, the independent Amharic-language weekly in the capital, Addis Ababa, and assaulted Moges Tikuye, a security guard, the paper reported. Tikuye suffered minor injuries. Early the next morning, assailants smashed the windows and doors of the office.
The South African media is facing its fiercest battle yet with the country's ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), over the boundaries of freedom of expression in the 16-year-old democracy. On August 8, 37 senior members of the media issued a declaration decrying recent moves on the part of the ANC to potentially restrict the media's ability to report freely. The Auckland Park Declaration was published shortly after a war of words erupted over a media tribunal proposed by the party.
New York, August 16, 2010--The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on authorities in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland to immediately release jailed radio journalist Abdifatah Jama, who was sentenced on Saturday to six years in prison on charges related to an interview with Islamic rebel leader Sheikh Mohamed Said Atom.
Dear President Zuma: We are writing to express our concern about legislative proposals that would severely restrict South Africa's independent press corps, which is distinguished for its dynamism and professionalism. We call on you as the head of state and leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) to ensure that such proposals are either amended in line with constitutional safeguards for freedom of the press and access to information, or withdrawn altogether in the interest of preserving the transparency, accountability, and democracy gained after apartheid.
Fifty years ago, development journalism helped to silence dissenting voices: One had to rally to the fathers of the nation for the sake of national unity. Accordingly, the legacy of these 50 years of Francophone media in Africa is freedom of the press and opinion. Journalists prod the elites, who are allergic to criticism, and require that they account for their handling of power and assume responsibility in the face of the various scandals they cause. Recently in Burkina Faso for instance, a government minister had to resign after the print media revealed his extramarital affair with a married woman. This was unthinkable a few years ago.
New York, August 12, 2010--The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization should cancel the Obiang prize at its next session in October 2010, the Committee to Protect Journalists and 95 partner groups said in a letter to UNESCO Executive Board members today.
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