Media council chief warns of ‘fatal sense of complacency’

A wide range of individuals and organisations have reacted with outrage to the government’s latest inroads into the remnants of press freedom in South Africa.

Even though yesterday’s government gazette did not fulfill the direst predictions — extending to the expected closure of some newspapers — the regulations are seen as the most serious threat yet to the supply of information.

The chairman of the South African Media Council, ex-Appellate Division, Judge L de V van Winsen, said “the omission of certain news and views will lull the public into a false and potentially fatal sense of complacency”.

The restrictions constitute “the most far-reaching constraints yet placed upon the free flow of news during the present crisis”, he said. He appealed for a “reconsideration” of the regulations, saying “failure to draw attention to the risk they entailed would be a dereliction of the public responsibility delegated by the Media Council’s Charter”.

Church group, political organisations, professional associations, trade unions and even a foreign government have come out in swift and strong condemnation of government clamp.

  • The Anglican Church’s liaison officer, Bishop John Carter, said “only authoritarian regimes of the worst kind, that are afraid to let people know what is happening, would resort to such measures”.
  • The president of the Methodist Conference, the Rev Jack Scholtz, said “the government is moving a step closer to totalitarianism”.
  • The acting president of the Azanian Peoples Organisation, Nkosi Molala, said “the restrictions are reminiscent of the steps adopted by Adolf Hitler and Mussolini and their totalitarian henchmen. Denying people knowledge of what is happening in their own country will not stop what is happening now”.
  • Herstigte Nasionale Party leader, Jaap Marais, said “the government is demonstrating that it has allowed the unrest to develop to such an extent that it now has to take extreme measures
    such as these to regain control”.
  • The Chief Minister of KwaZulu, Mangosothu Buthelezi, said “the restrictions will exacerbate our problem, and will only help those clamouring for sanctions”
  • Progressive Federal Party spokesman on the media, David Dalling, said “the press is entering a new dark era”, and he called on the government to “seriously reconsider the regulations”.
  • Lawyers For Human Rights vice-chairman Barry Jammy said the regulations would mean that South Africa “has effectively become a police state and freedom of speech and the press has effectively been destroyed”.
  • The Congress of South African Trade Unions said it was “clear the Emergency has failed to produce the desired results, and it is time for all South Africans who want no truck with apartheid and repression to unite to stop the government before it does irreparable damage to the country”.
  • A spokesman for the British Foreign Office “deplored the restrictions”, claiming “they are entirely contrary to the Western values that the South African government claims to espouse

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

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