popsAfter democracy was ushered into South Africa during 1994 under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, one of the central pillars of freedom, ie press freedom, became a celebrated symbol.

This remains so twenty years later, despite robust efforts by the Zuma presidency to impinge on it via a so-called need to protect state security under the guise of “secrecy”.

Media freedom is not only necessary in all functional democracies, it particularly is essential in the SA context. This is so largely due to high levels of corruption and shenanigans associated with the Zuma administration.

As the country inches closer to national elections, scandals such as Nkandla, corporate cartels, price fixing, tenderpreneurs, Marikana, tension within the alliance, Zwelinzima Vavi’s rocky return to COSATU as Secretary General and a host of other issues, will certainly feature under the media’s microscope.

Against this background, SA has been fortunate that media transformation in regard to editorial control, news content and diversification of ownership has in some ways been a mitigating factor in the prevention of censorship arising from pressure of lobbyists.

This is not to say that it doesn’t exist. In fact it would be naive to believe that lobbyists have not and do not to this day applied various forms of intimidatory tactics to silence media.

In this regard the experience of our NGO (Media Review Network) an advocacy group dealing with civil rights abuses flowing from Islamophobia as well as denial of Palestinian human rights by Israel is quiet extensive.

We have been targeted by pro-Israel lobbyists in a number of smear campaigns intended to marginalise and deny us media space. Depicting us as “antisemites”, “Jew-haters” and “holocaust deniers” have been desperate measures to subvert media freedom.

Though they have failed despite these despicable methods, subversion of freedom of the press remains a challenging task due to weaknesses inherent within media.

One such vulnerability emanates from media’s dependence on advertising revenue generated by corporate power. This in turn exposes the soft under belly of most commercial media whose editors face the daunting task of remaining credible while ensuring that a healthy stream of adspend is not disrupted due to content lobbyists find unacceptable.

A positive trend in SA has been the role of whistle blowers in exposing irregular practices and corruption. Investigative journalists have broken many leading stories sourcing leads and information from courageous individuals willing to tell.

In this vein it will be refreshing if reporters and editorial staff are brave enough to record and lay bare tactics of intimidation used by lobbyists. Many news rooms will be aware of the undue pressure placed on colleagues and editors to dictate content.

In a refresing recent departure from its known hard line intolerant approach to negative critique of Zionism and Israel, the SA Jewish Board entered into a settlement with a Muslim community broadcaster, Radio 786.

Does it signal an acceptance of the inviolability of media freedom by defenders of Israel?

Does it imply that having had to finally concede defeat after sixteen years of obstinate demands, pro-Israel lobby groups grudgingly acknowledge that press freedom will not be sacrificed by civil society?

Radio 786 deserves accolades from every media sector for refusing to succumb as a sacrificial lamb. Defending hard won freedoms as they did and graciously acknowledging that contentious subjects may cause offence cements its impeccable record as a valuable resource.

SA has developed a highly competitive and diverse media industry. As the fourth estate, its ability to withstand powerful vested interest whether from government or the corporate world will face constant challenges.

Iqbal Jassat

Executive Member

Media Review Network

Johannesburg SA

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Author: Iqbal JassatIqbal Jassat is an acclaimed writer, analyst and commentator and one of the founder members of MRN. His analysis is featured regularly in mainstream and alternate media outlets around the world.