Celebrating World Press Freedom Day

This followed the 26th session of UNESCO General Conference in 1991, which adopted the Windhoek Declaration, a statement of principles calling for a free, independent and pluralistic media throughout the world. The Declaration affirms that a free press is essential to the existence of democracy and a fundamental human goal.

In this financial year 2013/14, as South Africa, we celebrating and mark 10 years of the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA), 20 years of the first broadcast of the first Community Radio in SA (Bush Radio), 25 April 1993 and 20 years of the National Community Radio Forum (NCRF), 20th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day and more than 19 years of independent press in South Africa. An opportunity exists for all South Africans to reflect on the key milestones achieved in the quest to achieve media freedom and celebrate the fundamental principles of media freedom enshrined in the Constitution Act of 1996 (17 years ago), defend and protect media freedom, and pay tribute to media activists/journalists who lost their lives in the line of duty.

South Africa has undergone profound political and economic transformation over the last 19 years, resulting in new and strong political institutions that underpin democracy and a macro economic framework that encourages greater freedom and competition. The Constitution Act No.108 of 1996 protects and provides for the freedom of the media, freedom of expression and access to information. South Africa enacted many laws that gives meaning and effect to the Constitution Act like ICASA Act, MDDA Act, Access to Information Act, Promotion of Administrative Justice Act, Electronic Communications Act of 2005, Broadcasting Act of 1999, etc. including Chapter 9 of the Constitution which sets up institutions to support democracy. The MDDA, which is tasked with building an environment where a diverse, vibrant and creative media flourishes and reflects the needs of all South Africans, invites all South Africans to remember and celebrate World Press Freedom Day.

The MDDA, with limited budget of R233m accumulatively since 2004, has supported more than 484 media projects, throughout the length and breadth of South Africa, in all the 9 provinces, focusing on historically disadvantaged communities, using indigenous languages. As we all celebrate World Freedom Day, the Agency firmly believes that the freedom of the press and diversity of the media is a pre-requisite for a flourishing democracy. We should remember that media freedom is for all not just media practitioners. We must strive to ensure that every citizen has access to a range of choice of diverse media. We must ensure that rural communities have access to all media including television services and print media, in a language of their choice. We must ensure responsible journalism and that our media is transformed to reflect South Africa in every respect. We must also support and create an enabling environment for media development and diversity. Whereas, South Africans are celebrating legislative guarantees of press freedom, freedom of expression and editorial independence; it became clear after the Parliamentary processes in 2011, that a lot of work is needed and commitment to ensure the majority of South Africans enjoy these rights.
In September 2011, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications held Parliamentary discussions on this question. Media stakeholders including the Print and Digital Media of South Africa (PDMSA) confirmed the essence of the MDDA report on Trends of Ownership and Control of Media in SA (July 2009) which indicated that the pace of transformation in the print media is too slow for a sector that is so critical in the sustainability of our democracy. PDMSA reported (at the time) that only an average of 14% of ownership of the mainstream print media is in black (historically disadvantaged) hands and women participation in board and senior management is limited to 4.44%. This revelation, now 19 years after the first democratic elections in 1994, suggest that all stakeholders honestly and dispassionately confront the question of media transformation and diversity in the interest of all citizens and sustainability of our democracy. Following these discussions, Parliament held a Parliamentary Print Media Transformation Indaba 18th June 2012 at ICASA, where the Portfolio Committee on Communications noted that print media transformation needed to be fast-tracked to ensure the print media industry was a mirror of the present democratic dispensation. In September 2012, the Agency noted the launch of the Print and Digital Media Transformation Task team (PDMTT) initiated by the Print and Digital Media SA (PDMSA). The PMDTTT is yet to release its final report on the findings to stakeholders.

It is therefore critical to appreciate the broader context, as we celebrate 2013 World Press Freedom Day, to emphasize the significant role media can play in helping people in all their diversity to communicate with each other in order to strengthen our democracy, promote a culture of human rights and enable all to participate fully in our economic growth and speed up transformation and development. Information is knowledge and power. This can only be achieved if every citizen irrespective of their social class, (where ever located, rural or urban, poor or rich) has access to a choice of a diverse range of media. Media also provides a window of transparency in government and injects life to a country’s economy by publishing financial and market information to citizens, allowing them to participate freely and fruitfully in their country’s economy. Access to communication and information empowers citizens, facilitates participatory democracy, and assists in defending, advancing and deepening our democracy.

The Agency will continue to provide support to the development of more voices in the media through funding, capacity building programmes, which enable and empower people to take control of their lives. This will of course enable them to shape their future as they see fit and completely transform their communities. This year provides an opportunity for all media in particular our print media to reflect and consider plans to further its transformation to reflect the South African society in all respect, ownership and control, management, content, languages, gender, etc.

Issued by:

Lumko Mtimde, Chief Executive Officer

For further information please contact:  Hariet Mhlanga at (011) 643 1100


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