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The South African Human Rights Commission

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MEDIA STATEMENT: South African Human Rights Commission Emphasises Freedom of the Press on World Press Freedom Day
Attention: Editors and Reporters
Wednesday, 02 May 2018

The United Nations General Assembly declared the 3rd of May to be World Press Freedom Day to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The day also coincides with the Declaration of Windhoek, a statement of free press principles put together by African newspaper journalists in 1991.

Freedom of the Press is protected by Section 16 of the Constitution, which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of the press and other media.”

The South African Human Rights Commission (the Commission) recognises the extreme importance of constitutionally protected press freedom. Under the repressive apartheid regime, preceding South Africa’s Constitutional democracy, freedom of expression, particularly that of the media was severely stifled. This repression occurred in the name of so-called ‘national interests’, particularly to silence opposition toward the racist and unequal policies of apartheid.

The Commission is concerned about attacks on media professionals and notes the recent attacks on journalists during protests in the North West, as well as attacks on journalists and the destruction of cameras and media equipment during the Nedbank Cup semi-final match in April 2018. These do not auger well for press freedom in South Africa.

Former President Nelson Mandela, as the first democratically elected president of South Africa, recognized the vital role a fee media plays when he said: “A free press is one of the pillars of democracy.”

A free press ensures that democracy thrives through the dissemination of information, through educating the general populous and by holding those in power to account. A free press is able to report on corruption, abuse of power and the violation of constitutionally protected rights within the Bill of Rights, Chapter Two of the Constitution.

This opinion is echoed by the former Constitutional Court judge, Justice Kate O’Regan in South African National Defence Union v Minister of Defence and Another, when she said: “Freedom of expression lies at the heart of a democracy. It is valuable for many reasons, including its instrumental function as a guarantor of democracy, its implicit recognition and protection of the moral agency of individuals in our society and its facilitation of the search for truth by individuals and society generally.”

The Commission recognizes the role of the media and a free press in our constitutional democracy and will continue its efforts to protect freedom of the press and to take active steps to prevent the intimidation of the media.

Ends

Issued by the South African Human Rights Commission.

Gail Smith – Spokesperson Tel: 060 988 3792 gsmith@sahrc.org.za
Gushwell Brooks – Communications Co-ordinator Tel: 082 645 8573 gbrooks@sahrc.org.za

The South African Human Rights Commission.

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About us
The Human Rights Commission is the national institution established to support constitutional democracy. It is committed to promote respect for, observance of and protection of human rights for everyone without fear or favour.