Free press is a pillar of democracy

Stock photo.
Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/mearicon

The allegation that eNCA blocked a news conference by Jacob Zuma is very disturbing. The importance of free speech in a democratic society cannot be underestimated. In their efforts to provide the public with information about controversial yet important events, journalists in SA face constant intimidation and sometimes brutal deadly assaults, which constricts their ability to convey truthful information about cardinal and pivotal issues.

It was Sir Winston Churchill, who in 1949 offered these profound words: “A free press  is the unsleeping guardian of every other right that free men prize; it is the most dangerous foe of tyranny. Under dictatorship the press is bound to languish. A vigilant press will continue to be the Fourth Estate, the vigilant guardian of the rights of the ordinary citizen.”

When the public’s right to know is threatened and when the rights of free speech are in jeopardy, all other liberties are endangered. We must never yield to any attempt to destroy – by any means, whether mob violence or censorship by the elite – the right of conscience and freedom of opinion and of the press.

Section 16 (1) (A) of the the constitution of SA guarantees “ freedom of the press and other media”.

It is essentially a right which should be promoted to the maximum extent given its critical role in democracy.

When a free press is imperilled, muzzled or banned altogether, every other freedom is limited too, and democracy itself is threatened. It was Thomas Jefferson who said: “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press and cannot be limited without being lost.”

Freedom of the press should be sacrosanct unless one lives in a totalitarian state. The muzzling of our journalists is nothing less than a full assault on the basic principles of press freedom.

• Farouk Araie, Benoni

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