Media Freedom Protects Democracy

Stellenbosch- Although freedom of the press is enshrined in the South African Constitution and guaranteed by Article 6 of the Bill of Rights, “the Secrecy Bill hangs like a hungry vulture over the South African media landscape”.
That was the argument of Jo van Eden, from Volksblad, and the other panel members at the International Press Freedom Day panel discussion that was hosted by the Journalism Department of Stellenbosch University on Friday 2 May.
The importance of responsible journalism was highlighted numerous times by van Eden, “ethics is the backbone of journalism.” Van Eden argued that journalist need to get it right for the right reason and that freedom of speech should not merely be used to make controversial statements; free speech should be used to make meaningful contributions to the national dialogue and to strengthen our democracy.
Tim du Plessis, from Media24, referred to media freedom as a parachute, “you only miss it when it is no longer there”. Tim argued that even under Apartheid media freedom was seized by courageous journalist and editors.
“Our current government has very little appetite for the free flow of ideas, especially ideas that they do not like.” According to du Plessis the digital revolution will make it very hard for government to completely snuff out media freedom.
Mark Weinberg, from the Right2Know campaign, emphasized the importance of educating the public on the role of a free media in a democracy, “the media must serve the public and produce constructive dialogue”. Weinberg continued saying that the Secrecy Bill is a “worrying symptom of a much deeper problem in society”. The Secrecy Bill has “no public domain defense” in its current form.
Media ownership came under fire from Weinberg saying that “media owners are not in the business of serving democracy but in the business of business and selling advertisers to audiences”. Weinberg had no kind words for journalist whose “interests get conflated with media ownership”.
Weinberg contended that if we agree that the media is a public good then it must be publically funded in order to develop the three tiers of media; public, community and commercial tiers.
Weinberg spoke passionately against the current form of media ownership and the importance of plurality and triangulation of the media. Weinberg proposed that there should be regulations in place that keeps a person from owning more than two newspapers in a town in order to enhance the plurality of ideas in the media.
According to Weinberg and du Plessis, the high entry level costs in opening a printing press and newspaper also places a limit on new players entering the market and significantly reduced plurality.


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