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So this is democracy? State of media freedom in southern Africa 2011
Media Institute of Southern Africa
May 03, 2012

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The November 2011 passing of the Protection of Information Bill (POIB) in South Africa aptly captures the rest of media freedom in southern Africa during the year under review. Contemporary experience in the region shows that governments, including those deemed to be progressive - like South Africa - are increasingly becoming secretive, hindering access to information and expressing more fervent desire to exercise political oversight of the media.

The region symbolism of the POIB development, which comes against the backdrop of a proposal by the ruling (South Africa) African National Congress (ANC) to institute a Media Appeals Tribunal (MAT), is not impotent. As was highlighted on these pages in the 2010 report, "threats and harassment of media workers in South Africa (are) particularly damaging and (resonate) far beyond (the country as its is) a leading economic and political force in the region as a whole."

The concern, therefore, is that "what happens in South Africa is easily a justification for similar policies and actions in other countries in the region and elsewhere." Hence, with a policy conference coming in 2012, followed bay an elective conference in the same year, how the ANC defends its MAT proposal and also respond to the public's criticisms of the POIB will be of key interest.

But, the fragility of any democracy - certainly in the case of Southern Africa - is also as a result of severe weaknesses within other democratic institutions such as the judiciary, legislative assemblies, opposition political parties, civil society organisations and the media, whether sate owned, public or private.

Such weaknesses have, for instance, allowed some governments to disrespect the rule of law with reckless abandon. Consequently, the work of the media in countries that do this has been profoundly affected as evidenced by, amongst other tactics, arbitrary arrests, detention without trial and the instigation of lawsuits that have the clear objective of bankrupting targeted media organisations and have them focus their energies elsewhere outside their core business. It does not help either that certain judiciaries and legislatures in the region appear to be in cold complicit with respective regimes targeting the media.

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