Censorship isn’t only when the government prevents us from speaking. Censorship isn’t limited to a blanket ban on speech of certain kinds. Censorship also comes in when those in power attempt to tell us what we must say. And how we must say it. And when they attempt to bully the media into saying what they want, for their own gain.
And this, in short, infringes on the constitutional right to freedom of expression. One of the most important rights contained in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of th Republic of South Africa.The right which all other rights are hinged upon. A right our predecessors fought hard for. Died for. Yes, it seems trite to pull that card. We’ve all heard the struggle stories to the point that they’ve probably become a bit boring. Most of us are too young to remember much of it, and the struggle stories are just that – stories. As we should have learned by now, history repeats itself. Yes, it might be a bit of an overdramatisation to say that history is repeating itself. But this is how it starts and it’s a slippery slope all the way to a dictatorial state, with the goverment controlling the press and all other media.
The right to freedom of expression is what allows the media to be a watchdog and to ensure that the power entrusted to the government, and granted by the Constitution, is not abused. Freedom of expression is what allows the media to expose corruption, to question administrative action and to be the voice of the people. The right to freedom of expression, as with most other rights, is not absolute.
As Paul Jacobson rightly notes: “The right to freedom of expression is limited where it constitutes propaganda for war; incitement of imminent violence; or advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm. Short of that and a valid reason to limit that right in terms of the limitations clause, we retain the right to say what we want.”
The media rely on the right to freedom of expression and must at all costs foster it it. In this sense we are both bearers of rights and bearers of constitutional obligations in relation to freedom of expression. We are obliged to make use of the right to freedom of expression as we are important agents in ensuring that government is open, responsive and accountable to the people as the founding values of our Constitution require and we are obliged to fight for the right to freedom of expression, when it looks like it is to be unduly limited.
The manner in which the press and other media carry out their constitutional task will have a significant impact on the development of our democratic society. If the media are steadfast and reliable in the performance of their constitutional obligations, they will invigorate and help build our young democracy. If they stumble in the performance of their duties, the cthe constitutional vision will be blurred. (Khumalo and Others v Holomisa)
It is for this reason, that I decided to take part in this action, along with fellow bloggers. Bloggers constitute a new section of the media, and one only has to look at the sheer volume of blogs out there to know that bloggers are important stakeholders in any fight regarding the right to freedom of expression. We all enjoy the right, we all talk freely on our blogs and none of us worry much about retribution or intimidation or the possibility of being silenced. When that is threatened, when our rights to open our mouths, or our rights to bash our keyboards and say as we please are threatened, even indirectly we must speak.
We must speak out against this, South Africa. And we must do so for the world to know.
Speak, South Africa, speak.
Speak so that the world may hear and know we shall not be silenced. Ever.
SpeakZA Bloggers For a Free Press
Last week, shocking revelations concerning the activities of the ANC Youth League spokesperson Nyiko Floyd Shivambu came to the fore. According to a letter published in various news outlets, a complaint was laid by 19 political journalists with the Secretary General of the ANC, against Shivambu. This complaint letter detailed attempts by Shivambu to leak a dossier to certain journalists, purporting to expose the money laundering practices of Dumisani Lubisi, a journalist at the City Press.
The letter also detailed the intimidation that followed when these journalists refused to publish these revelations.We condemn in the strongest possible terms the reprisals against journalists by Shivambu. His actions constitute a blatant attack on media freedom and a grave infringement on Constitutional rights. It is a disturbing step towards dictatorial rule in South Africa.
We call on the ANC and the ANC Youth League to distance themselves from the actions of Shivambu. The media have, time and again, been a vital democratic safeguard by exposing the actions of individuals who have abused their positions of power for personal and political gain.
The press have played a vital role in the liberation struggle, operating under difficult and often dangerous conditions to document some of the most crucial moments in the struggle against apartheid. It is therefore distressing to note that certain people within the ruling party are willing to maliciously target journalists by invading their privacy and threatening their colleagues in a bid to silence them in their legitimate work.
We also note the breathtaking hubris displayed by Shivambu and the ANC Youth League President Julius Malema in their response to the letter of complaint. Shivambu and Malema clearly have no respect for the media and the rights afforded to the media by the Constitution of South Africa. Such a response serves only to reinforce the position that the motive for leaking the so-called dossier was not a legitimate concern, but a insolent effort to intimidate and bully a journalist who had exposed embarrassing information about the Youth League President.
We urge the ANC as a whole to reaffirm its commitment to media freedom and other Constitutional rights we enjoy as a country.
Blog Roll of Other Speakers: