The Lesbian and Gay Equality Project (LGEP) has joined other social justice organisations in condemning the crackdown on media freedom in South Africa.

In a joint statement, together with groups such as the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and SECTION27, LGEP noted with concern the recent arrest of Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika, which, it said, appears to point to intimidation by the state and attempts to suppress freedom of expression.

“The right to free expression and freedom of the press and other media are essential components of democracy. That is why they are contained in the Bill of Rights,” said the organisations.

“They are one of the essential means by which all people in South Africa, especially the vulnerable, exploited and poor, can hold government and the powerful private business sector to account.”

The arrest of wa Afrika took place amid a national debate over proposed legislation that critics say will curtail press freedom.

The new Protection of Information Act will increase the scope of what the state can classify as “secret” without proper oversight, potentially making it more difficult to highlight government corruption or wrongdoing.

The ruling ANC has also proposed a media appeals tribunal that will have final say on cases of bad or inappropriate reporting, which are currently regulated by the media itself through the press ombudsman.

“Unfortunately, we believe the crackdown on the media being encouraged by parts of government, some in the ANC and probably influential ‘tenderpreneurs’ and predatory elites is not aimed at improving the quality and responsibility of the media, or making it more equal. Instead it is aimed at hiding corruption, frustrating accountability and covering up service delivery failure,” commented the organisations.

Other groups have also expressed concern at moves to limit freedom of expression by the Department of Home Affairs which is championing proposals – along with fundamentalist Christian groups – to restrict all adult content on the internet and mobile platforms in an attempt to “protect” children.

On Sunday, 36 of the country’s leading newspaper editors called for the Protection of Information legislation and the proposed tribunal to be scrapped.

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