Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Media Censorship in South Africa?

South Africa seems to have a fairly free and independent news media. But the president of the ruling party's Youth League would like to see that changed.

In most of Africa -- well, in most of the world -- media don't have the freedom to go after the government. But in South Africa, they pretty much do.

Consider the lead story in the Aug. 23 edition of the Johannesburg Sunday Times: "The report Mbeki and Zuma hid from you"

Mbeki and Zuma would be the former and current presidents of South Africa. And the headline clearly indicates the Sunday Times is going right after them.

The story is a pretty intense and important examination of "shady oil deals" between South Africa and Saddam Hussein's Iraq. It is good, aggressive journalism of the sort that is rarely seen in the Third World.

But the aforementioned leader of the ruling party's Youth League, name of Julius Malema, would like to see the independent media brought to heel, and he is blunt about it.

According to The Times, in a story dated Saturday, Malema said "this media needs to be controlled somehow. They are even trying to set an agenda for the ANC. We cannot allow just a few editors to dictate what is wrong and what is right."

Malema apparently is convinced much of South Africa media is hostile to the African National Congress, the ruling party, nonstop, since the end of the apartheid government, in 1994. Maybe it's because the government more than occasionally is corrupt? Like most governments?

Malema said "some sort of control" needs to be exercised over the media. Which is the sort of thing you might expect from a man who has identified Fidel Castro as the politician he most admires.

Malema seems to be fairly often pilloried as a left-wing nut job. One blogger said Malema is "a sandwich short a picnic" ... but he still is in a high-level and high-visibility position, and it is a bit chilling to hear him calling for controlled media.

It reminds us that political and social freedoms in South Africa remain tenuous and fragile. Imagine a major U.S. or British or French or Australian politician calling for censorship. It wouldn't happen.

But it does, in South Africa. And we fear it may, again.

It would be nice to be able to go to a World Cup in a country where both successes and failures are duly reported. South Africa seems like such a place. For now.

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