Forever under threat, ever vigilant

Today we mark the 30th anniversary of Black Wednesday, one of the defining moments in our march to liberation and democracy.

Today we mark the 30th anniversary of Black Wednesday, one of the defining moments in our march to liberation and democracy.

On this day in 1977 the racist regime of Prime Minister BJ Vorster launched one of its most vile assaults on freedom of expression and the right to dissent. It banned the World, Weekend World and Pro Veritate, a church newspaper, as well as 17 black consciousness organisations.

They were targeted because they opposed the madness of apartheid, which the United Nations had already declared a crime against humanity.

But apartheid has been relegated to the dustbin of history and we live in a democracy with a constitution that guarantees freedom of expression; including media freedom, the freedom to receive and impart information and artistic freedom.

Yet we still don't live in Nirvana and our journalism faces terrific challenges.

The craft has lost too many experienced journalists at a time when we are expected to tell the complicated story of a nation in transition. The shortage of skills bodes ill for good journalism.

Worse yet, editors and journalists still have to defend press freedom 30 years on from Black Wednesday.

Our statute books are littered with laws unfriendly to the news media. Appeals to the government to scrap the notorious Section 205 of the Criminal Procedures Act, which forces journalists to reveal their sources, have fallen on deaf ears.

State organs, sectarian groups and powerful individuals are increasingly abusing interdicts to gag the media.

And the battle against the the ill-advised Film and Publications Amendment Bill and its pre-publication censorship is far from being won.

We find cold comfort in the words of Pallo Jordan, the Arts and Culture Minister, who says the ANC has no reason to fear a free press and will not muzzle the media.

We are also mindful of ANC presidential hopeful Tokyo Sexwale's warning against complacency. He implores us to remain vigilant because "Black Wednesday can always revisit us".

Interesting times, indeed.

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