Press freedom in South Africa

South Africa ranks 52nd out of 179 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF’s) 2013 index of press freedom – down from 42nd position the year before.

After the Arab Spring and other dramatic political movements, this year’s index “is a better reflection of the attitudes and intentions of governments towards media freedom in the medium or long term,’ said the organisation. (Image: Magharebia)

Brand South Africa reporter

Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index – covering the period from December 2011 to end November 2012 – reflects the degree of freedom journalists and news organisations enjoy in each country, and the efforts made by each state to respect and ensure respect for this freedom.

After the Arab Spring and other dramatic political movements, this year’s index “is a better reflection of the attitudes and intentions of governments towards media freedom in the medium or long term,’ said the organisation.

Many criteria are considered, ranging from legislation to violence against journalists. While the political system is not considered, it is clear that democracies better protect the freedom to circulate accurate information.

‘Secrecy bill’

While South Africa is described as a country where freedom of expression is a reality, its ranking was affected by the threat posed by the Protection of State Information Bill to investigative journalism in the country.

After a year of debate, the contentious, amended bill was passed by the National Assembly in April 2013.

State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele told parliament that the bill was aimed at protecting sensitive state information and the information of ordinary people, such as marriage certificates and business registrations.

The bill gives the minister control over the classification of information.

The government insists that whistle-blowers would be protected and no one will be able to use the bill to hide corruption.

Opponents to the bill, which include human rights and legal experts, opposition parties and civil society bodies, say it preferences state interests over transparency and freedom of expression.

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Best and worst

Finland followed by the Netherlands and Norway have no recorded censorship, threats, intimidation or physical reprisals towards members of the media. It is the third year that Finland is in the top spot.

Turkmenistan (177th), North Korea (178th) and Eritrea (179th) occupy the last three spots as authorities there continued a clampdown on independent media activity.

For the third year Finland,, which has no curbs on journalists rights, sat atop the report. (Image: Alisdare Hickson)

RSF said in its 2013 press freedom report that Eritrea “continues to be a vast open prison for its people and lets journalists die in detention”, while neither Kim Jong-un’s arrival in Korea nor the reformist discourse of the Turkmen regime have lead to any easing up of the “totalitarian control of the media”.


Other countries that have slipped in the rankings are Israel, down 20 places to 112 because of its military targeting of reporters in Palestine’s territories.

Malayasia (145th) has dropped 23 places due to the limitation on the access of information in the country.

The biggest fall of the index was recorded by Mali (99th), which slumped 74 places after the turmoil of 2012, including a military coup in March.

Japan’s sharp fall of 31 places to 53rd should “sound an alarm”, RSF says. The country’s rating has been affected by “a lack of transparency and almost zero respect for access to information on subjects directly or indirectly related to Fukushima”.

Press freedom in Africa

Within Africa, South Africa comes in sixth position, after Namibia (19th), Ghana (30th), Botswana (40th), Niger (43rd) and Burkina Faso (46th).

Malawi, up by 71 places to 75th, “registered the biggest leap in the index, almost returning to the position it held before the excesses at the end of the [Bingu wa] Mutharika administration,’ reported the organisation.

Ivory Coast (96th, up 63 places), has emerged from its post-electoral crisis between the supporters of Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara with its best position since 2003.

Deadliest country

The deadliest country for journalists in 2012 was Syria (176th), where “journalists and netizens are the victims of an information war waged by both the Assad regime, which stops at nothing in order to crack down and impose a news blackout, and by opposition factions that are increasingly intolerant of dissent”.

RSF said 2012 was the “deadliest year ever registered”, with a high number of journalists and netizens killed in the course of their work.

(Image: OPEN DAYS)

How the index is compiled

Reporters Without Borders compiles its index by asking 18 freedom of expression organisations on five continents, 150 correspondents around the world, as well as journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists, to answer questions relating to the state of press freedom in 179 countries.

The questions consider six general criteria: pluralism, media independence, environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency and infrastructure.

It also calculates a score to reflect the level of violence against journalists. The scores are combined to assess the state of press freedom.

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