Last Updated: Monday, 20 November 2017, 16:41 GMT

Reporters Without Borders Annual Report 2003 - South Africa

Publisher Reporters Without Borders
Publication Date 2003
Cite as Reporters Without Borders, Reporters Without Borders Annual Report 2003 - South Africa, 2003, available at: [accessed 21 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

While southern Africa in general has become more and more repressive, South Africa is still getting good marks for respect for press freedom. However, journalists continue to be the victims of threats and attacks in some isolated regions.

Relations between the press and President Thabo Mbeki appeared to improve in 2002. The hostility of some newspapers toward the country's leaders, which the government criticised last year, was toned down. But the controversy about racism in the news media continued. The International Herald Tribune ran an article in October 2002 describing Radio Pretoria as the radio station where "apartheid is still revered." It said the station provided "a unique voice for conservative Afrikaners, the white minority that oppressed blacks for decades and then resisted, sometimes violently, the transition to multiracial democracy." The station, which has 100,000 listeners, still broadcasts the old apartheid regime's national anthem every morning.

South Africa's newspapers paid the price economically after the 11 September attacks. Advertising revenue plummeted and several had to lay off staff. Some newspapers increased their prices because newsprint became more expensive.

Senior staff at the state-owned South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) debated all year with the government about a new draft law modifying its statutes. With the backing of freedom of expression organisations, the SABC finally won its battle and maintained its editorial independence.

A journalist arrested

Freelance journalist Riyad Desai was detained on 24 August 2002 while covering an illegal protest against constant police harassment of members of the Landless People's Movement. He was released the same day after paying bail of 1,000 rand (about 100 euros). No charges were pressed.

Three journalists physically attacked

Journalists Wonder Hlongwa, Mandla Zulu and Bongani Hans of City Press were assaulted by senior staff of a company in the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal in mid-April 2002 while covering a protest by employees. The attack followed the publication of an article referring to "criminal activities" by the head of the company. The journalists claimed to have been threatened with further reprisals.

Four journalists threatened

Sunday Times reporter Sabelo Ndlangisa was threatened by Sina Sebetha of the traffic police in Gauteng province (Johannesburg region) on 19 September 2002. Sebetha called the newspaper and left a message warning Ndlangisa that he would "vanish" if he did not leave her alone. This threat followed the publication of an article headlined, "Traffic cop who asked for a bribe is still in job."

Thugs attacked and threatened Zenzele Kuhlase of the African Eye News Service (AENS) outside the Nelspruit courthouse (east of Johannesburg) at the end of September as he was taking photographs of a suspect in the case of an attack on a minor. The assailants also attacked another photographer, Steven Ziboleno Ntuli, and made him leave the trial. A third journalist with the news agency, Jbulile Sherone Mhlabane, received death threats for having named an individual implicated in a murder case. According to the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI), a South African NGO, these threats were made in the presence of several police officers including the Nelspruit police commissioner, Joseph Ntsanwisi. The FXI asked the authorities to investigate and punish those responsible.

Pressure and obstruction

The government submitted a draft law on broadcasting to parliament on 4 February 2002. It proposed setting up a Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) with the main task of providing or facilitating financing, training and development assistance for news media catering to South Africa's minorities and marginalised communities. The draft law was criticised by sectors within the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) – the state-owned radio and TV broadcaster – which saw it as a threat to editorial independence.

An SABC delegation announced on 30 August that it would propose a number of amendments, especially to provisions about news, programming and language policies. On 23 October, parliament adopted the amendments proposed by the SABC and freedom of expression NGOs, ensuring the independence of state radio and TV. A fourth television station was created to make more room for South Africa's less known languages.

The ministry for intelligence services apologised on 21 April to journalists who had been summoned by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) a few days earlier. The journalists, who had applied for a job with the future presidential press office, had been questioned by NIA officials about their present and past sexual partners. They were also asked if they would be ready to consent to sexual relations in exchange for information.

The high court for the second time banned the publication of a biography of businessman Sol Kerzner on 15 August. Written by journalist Allan Greenblo, the biography claims that Kerzner had commercial dealings with the former apartheid regime. Kerzner denies any links with the former government. The biography had already been banned in 1997.

UN security officers prevented the representatives of several NGOs from holding a press conference at the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development on 2 September. Soon after they began to speak, the NGO representatives were cut short by the summit's security personnel who told them they had failed to request authorisation from the UN.

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