MONDAY’s Herald (“Media under attack”) details the various fronts from which press freedom is under threat in South Africa. It deals with Nceba Faku’s intemperate call to burn The Herald and the various police actions against journalists around the country.
These have of course all happened while the government debates the terms of the legislation that is intended to put a rein on press freedom in South Africa.
What the government should understand is that news is unstoppable. In this modern technological age, the passing around of information through e-mails and websites will happen, and it cannot be censored.
What is more, much of this electronic information is unbridled rumour that has not had the benefit of being editorially vetted for its truth and substance. Without a free press, web information will be the substitute and it will be much less reliable.
A recent e-mail that went the rounds in South Africa was a collection of interior photographs of an over-the-top opulent mansion which was purported to be of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s house in Harare. It was the anti-Mugabe South African press that pointed out that the photographs were of the interior of some glitzy home in California.
Up to then everyone believed the e-mail. If the South African press had been controlled everyone would still be believing the e-mail.
The Arab awakening has seen revolts against what are oppressive governments but the tenacity of these revolts has been accelerated by the fact that those governments did not allow press freedom. Many of the atrocities and much of the corruption of which those governments stand accused are valid and have aroused legitimate discontent.
On the other hand, the anger has been substantially accelerated by web rumour and false accusation. There is nothing any government can do to counter false information on the web once it has suppressed press freedom.
Nobody in such circumstances believes a word from a government-managed press.
There must be many Arab leaders who now wish that they had had a free press to temper the anger of the people where it has been intensified by false and exaggerated web information, and where there has been no free press to point out the facts.
Andre Jensen, Mill Park, Port Elizabeth