Muzzling of media is an undemocratic act

MEDIA SETBACK: Harassment and intimation of journalists and attempts to muzzle the media are all examples of threats to media freedom. Picture: FILE
MEDIA SETBACK: Harassment and intimation of journalists and attempts to muzzle the media are all examples of threats to media freedom. Picture: FILE
Image: Macor / 123RF Stock Photo

Journalism. One of the most basic fundamentals of a functioning democracy.

Journalists were among those fighting apartheid, using their words — sometimes in banned newspapers that were secretly distributed — to take on a racist regime.

So when, in 2021, we face threats to press freedom in the form of threats against journalists or attempts to muzzle the media, it really is nonsensical.

Take for example the reaction of celebrity Somizi Mhlongo in response to questions sent to him by Sunday World acting editor Kabelo Khumalo and City Press's Julia Madibogo who were working on separate stories.

Mhlongo, apart from insulting and name calling, published the journalists' contact information on his Instagram page where he has nearly four million followers.

The result was as could be expected: his followers resorted to intimidating and harassing the journalists on all social media platforms, going as far as threatening rape and death — even after Mhlongo eventually deleted their information.

But by then, the horse had bolted.

“This is a direct attack on media freedom in the country. Worldwide similar attacks are being meted out on journalists with the intent to silence their voices, especially those of women and the stories they tell,” the SA National Editors' Forum (Sanef) said in a statement.

Then, on Wednesday, advocate Salie Joubert SC acting for a Port Elizabeth doctor accused of sexually assaulting patients, asked the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) committee hearing the inquiry to bar The Herald from reporting on the matter.

Joubert brought the application claiming The Herald had no legal right to name the doctor, adding that the doctor was not aware that eight criminal complaints had been laid against him, a fact reported in The Herald on Tuesday after confirmation from police spokesperson Colonel Priscilla Naidu.

HPCSA chair advocate Justice Mogotsi proceeded to bar The Herald from reporting on the matter, a ruling that The Herald believes does not take into account the public interest nature of the case, especially as the newspaper is not by law barred from naming the doctor.

Again, Sanef has condemned the matter.

“Sanef believes that the ruling made to stop The Herald from reporting was a blatant restriction on the media’s duty to report on a matter of significant public interest,” Sanef executive director Kate Skinner said.

Two very different cases but at its core it boils down to one thing: an attack on media freedom, a freedom that should be protected at all costs if democracy is to survive and thrive.

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