e-CIVICUS 409 - Issued 03 October 2008 

Freedom of Expression under attack in the global south
Source: Manana Stone, Media & Advocacy Officer, Media Institute of Southern Africa


Freedom of Expression under attack in the global south
The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), a regional media and freedom of expression advocacy organisation working through national chapters in 11 Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) countries to promote media diversity, pluralism, self-sufficiency and independence; as envisaged in the 1991 Windhoek Declaration and the African Charter on Broadcasting. 

More than ever the media is under immense scrutiny for its use of the right to freely expresses itself. Many feel that the media in general has become the law unto itself, but MISA believes that freedom of expression is a right that is core to the role of media in a development. We also acknowledge that in exercising this right, every citizen need to bear in mind that his/her rights does not infringe that of the other. 

Eighteen years after the Windhoek Declaration, it is arguable that the media environment in Southern Africa remains a far cry from what was envisaged in 1991. While it is without doubt that the state of media freedom in several countries has progressed incredibly, some countries have regressed alarmingly, often to the same level if not worse than the colonial and one party state media environments of the 70s and 80s.

The media environment in Zimbabwe, characterized by arrests, beatings and torture of journalists and the general repression of free expression is arguably worse than it was at independence in 1980. Ten years after Angola's bloody civil war, the media environment could not be worse under the auspices of a hyper sensitive government. Swaziland's media, 35 years after the infamous royal proclamation and three years after a new constitution, still languish in repression and uncertainty. Lesotho is becoming the new media frontier of southern Africa as government clamp down and displays zero tolerance for dissenting views.

The biggest and most unexpected media retrogression has been in South Africa, a country whose media policies and overall environment has been showcased as a successful African model. The threats of a media tribunal posed by the ruling ANC government, the deterioration of confidence and ensuing tussle for control over the public broadcaster SABC as well as the proposed protection of Information law are serious media threats not just for South Africa but the entire region. With South Africa's immense political and social economic influence throughout Africa, the current developments pose a continental counter effect with an immeasurable capacity to undo progress achieved in the last 18 years of the Windhoek Declaration on media freedom. 

On a positive note, Zambia enjoyed a good year with a landmark Supreme Court ruling towards media freedom as well as a constitutional review process currently underway seeking not only to uphold media freedom, but also to make the right to information a constitutional guarantee.

Monitoring of media and freedom of expression violations are central to MISA's programme areas. Our work in these areas generally point to further deterioration in the relationship between our governments and the media. This bad relationship is demonstrated through threats made on journalists and media organizations, and the enactment of unfriendly media laws.

MISA continue to call for support of freedom of expression and access to information. Citizens need to have access to media in order to express their views, articulate their challenges and contribute towards their own development. As many SADC countries approach elections time, we urge the media to remain objective and have an independent view. 

Read the MISA-SA Chapter media statement on Zapiro's cartoon of Jacob Zuma and the rape of justice, as published by two South African newspapers the Sunday Times and Mail & Guardian.

MISA Secretariat: www.misa.org

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