Jeopardising the freedom of writers will endanger the freedom of every reader in South Africa, renowned authors said on Friday in protest against proposed controls over the South African media.
“Writing presupposes an interaction with readers. And so, if the work and the freedom of the writer are in jeopardy, the freedom of every reader in South Africa is in danger.
“Consequently our protest is an action undertaken by South Africans for all South Africans, committing ourselves to a demand for our free country: freedom of thought expressed, freedom of dialogue, freedom from fear of the truth about ourselves, all South Africans,” said a statement.
The protest, organised by acclaimed authors Andre Brink and Nadine Gordimer, is opposing the government’s draft Protection of Information Bill and the ANC’s proposed media tribunal.
It is being supported by fellow writers Zakes Mda, Abraham H de Vries, Chris Barnard, Breyten Breytenbach, Marlene van Niekerk, Zoë Wicomb, Damon Galgut, Mandla Langa, Etienne van Heerden, Hermann Giliomee, Fred Khumalo and Justice Malala.
“Denial of freedom of expression makes a mockery of the profession of journalism — the print press and the media in general.
“As writers — whether novelists, poets, playwrights, essayists, historians, biographers or others — we too are threatened by denial of freedom of the word.”
Many of the writers supporting the protest were banned under the apartheid regime.
“We are threatened again, now with a gag over the word processor if we penetrate the ‘transparency’ promised in the new South Africa, which a media tribunal will replace with the descent of a shutter over the dialogue of the arts.”
The Bill and the tribunal have led to debate over media freedom. The ANC has argued that current media watchdog, the press ombudsman, is not sufficient and an alternative to self-regulation was needed. The Protection of Information Bill seeks to regulate the classification of information and makes publishing top-secret documents a crime punishable with up to 25 years in prison. — Sapa