South Africa is ranked 31 on The World Press Freedom Index.

Journalists and broadcasters expressed mixed feelings about World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) on Friday, May 3, a reaction which was framed by the announcement of the 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

The index ranked South Africa 31st out of 180 countries and rated the country’s media freedom as ‘satisfactory’.

“The index examines whether and how many journalists were killed in a particular country and if journalists have been jailed. It also considers countries’ legislative framework as well as national debates about the media,” said Dr Glenda Daniels of the SANEF (South African National Editors’ Forum). Daniels also said that she believes South Africa is in the category it deserves.

Caxton professor of journalism, Anton Harber, said that he does not agree with the index and believes South Africa’s press is better than satisfactory as the level of media freedom in the country is high.

“Sure, there are threats there’s no doubt about that, but the level of media freedom is high compared to other countries,” Harber said.

“Going into elections on May 8, the state of the newsroom is very concerning. The quality of journalism is suffering and I think that we have failed to focus attention on the policy issues that should drive an election. It is very worrying”, he added.

“For democracy to be functional, the press has to be free and journalists must serve the interests of the public by being conduits of reliable information”, said Daniels.

Harber said that it is important to observe WPFD mostly to show solidarity with countries that don’t have the freedom South Africa has, particularly neighbouring countries.

“When we [South Africa] faced severe censorship we survived because of the incredible amount of international support and we now have to give the same support to our colleagues,” he said.

The index is produced every two years by Paris-based organisation Reporter’s Without Borders, an international non-profit organisation that conducts political advocacy on issues relating to freedom of information and the press. The theme for this years’ WPFD was “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation”.

FEATURED IMAGE: Professor Anton Harber sharing his views about the importance of press freedom. Photo: Anathi Madubela.