Editorial: Farewell, Ray Louw

Raymond Louw was a bulwark of press freedom. He stood taller than most as the editor of the Rand Daily Mail who dared over and over again to defy then prime minister John Vorster. He was the best editor for that time. He was brave and principled. And he resisted every attempt to thwart the work of his journalists. During his tenure, the newspaper had the biggest circulation of South African dailies. It was also an early record of the atrocities of the apartheid state.

But as much as he was an editor for that era, he was also a journalist for all ages. Louw, who was 93 when he died, was vice-president of South African PEN, chair of the South Africa chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, deputy chair of the media freedom committee of the South Africa National Editors’ Forum, and an executive committee member and former chairman of the Freedom of Expression Institute.

Long after his formal retirement, and as recently as a few months ago, he could still be found at industry events and, as one person pointed out recently, he was on Twitter.

In all those forums, he continued to advocate for the freedom of journalists to tell the true story of the world. He continued to believe in the transformative potential of a free media. And he understood well the threats to that freedom.

In his tribute to Louw this week, Sir Harold Evans (the former editor of the United Kingdom’s The Sunday Times) said: “He was as alert to the coercions against an individual reporter as identifying the convolutions of a sub-clause in legislation that threatened to limit the good that journalists may do in the public interest.”

Indeed, his unfaltering devotion to the principle and practice of a free media was his honour.

As friends and family gather to celebrate his life in the coming days, we remember his perseverance.

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