Press freedom at crossroads

We South Africans like to wax lyrical about our Constitution being the Rolls-Royce of its kind anywhere in the world and Sowetan is fiercely proud of the document that is the supreme law of our land.

We South Africans like to wax lyrical about our Constitution being the Rolls-Royce of its kind anywhere in the world and Sowetan is fiercely proud of the document that is the supreme law of our land.

The preamble to this invaluable document asks us all to recognise the wrongs of our past, honour those who suffered for our freedom and build a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights.

The bill of rights, the "cornerstone of democracy" in our land, confers on all people an "inherent right to dignity" as well as the right to freedom of expression. And that includes press freedom.

Yet many people are driven by despair to dismiss the Constitution as a worthless document not worth the paper it is written on.

We appreciate their view, but we do not share it.

The onus lies with all of us to make the Constitution a living document. That means standing up for our rights and refusing to let anybody or any institution, no matter how powerful, violate them.

That is why this newspaper is taking steps to ensure that the policeman who illegally jailed our reporter Mhlaba Memela for doing his job in Durban last week faces the full might of the law.

Press freedom, like other freedoms, is the product of enormous sacrifice and is too valuable to be trampled upon.

Some officers have made a habit of obstructing and arresting journalists. It is time they were made to respect the supreme law of the land.

Memela's arrest and detention, and the subsequent dropping of charges against him, was plain harassment.

His only crime was to be at the right place at the right time during his call of duty.

Refusing to allow him to take pictures of a minibus taxi that had ploughed into a furniture shop was nothing but interference and showed utter ignorance of the role of the media.

For trying to inform Sowetan readers, Memela was locked in a cell for the night. That is outrageous.

The state declined to prosecute because the case had no merit, which proves the arrest and detention were unlawful.

We sincerely hope the police force itself will take action against the officer who denied Memela the right to do his job and infringed on his human rights and freedom.

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