Our media freedom is sacred

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Members of the police in uniform, Sandton. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

It is indeed sad that journalist Paul Nthoba, had to flee to Lesotho after he was allegedly assaulted by police in Ficksburg.

Attacking the media is ruinous for a vibrant democracy. Some seem to expect the media to say nothing negative and always be beholden to them. It is very large thanks to the free, dynamic, irreverent and independent media that we have and is one of the glories of this country. It was M.K.Gandhi who said ‘Under democracy, individual liberty of opinion and action is jealously guarded.’ In today’s politics and society at large, media is essential to the safeguarding transparency of democratic processes. 

Our free and independent press has a storied history. Back many years ago it was our printing presses and anonymous pamphlets, that inspired our revolution. Freedom of the media is enshrined in our sacred constitution.

The fact is that we cannot sustain a democracy without a free and independent press. Our nation has had its own experience with politicians demonising the media to distract from their own shortcomings. Our journalists remain the custodians of conscience in Mzansi. They look for violations of the moral order, the norms concerning what’s right and wrong. 

The assault on the media has undermined this trust threatening the nation’s democratic system. When our leaders enshrined the freedom of the press into the constitution, they understood that journalists are an essential component of democracy. Under the threat of assault, the media has fallen prey to more nuanced efforts to throttle their independence.

Freedom of speech and the media is a sacred element of our democracy. Free speech is the notion of being able to speak both openly and freely without restrictions. Free speech is not an independent value but a political prize. Our constitution guarantees the rights and freedoms, only to such reasonable limits prescribed by-laws as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. 

Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms, freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression including freedom of the press and other media of communication. On liberty, there is always a struggle between the competing demands of liberty and authority, and we cannot have the latter without the former.

Democracy must protect itself before it comes too late. This is the basis of the argument of those who accept the need to restrict the freedoms of speech and association in those extreme cases when democracy, the rights or the good name of others, and public order are threatened by irresponsible individuals who could not care less about the rule of law and basic freedoms.