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Those Who Intimidate Journalists Have Forgotten What Others Endured To Win Freedom Of Speech

At this juncture in our fragile democracy we need to support journalists.

11/07/2017 03:59 SAST | Updated 11/07/2017 03:59 SAST
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It is with great concern that I have observed the upsurge of intimidation and harassment of journalists and those who wish for freedom of expression in our country. I would like to add my voice to the many others who have spoken out against this injustice.

These actions seem to take me back to the apartheid era when we had to endure a repressive regime that adopted similar tactics. During that dark period in our history, many brave individuals risked their lives and that of their families in an effort to expose the truth. They were the heroes of the day.

It is essential that we all acknowledge the importance of journalists in our society, and that journalistic freedom is a fundamental right of our society who depend on the media for information that has an impact on our daily lives.

Today, the press has emerged as a watchdog of our democracy, however, their collective role is being stymied by forces with an anti-democratic agenda that is self-serving and contrived to bring instability and unrest in our country.

I also note the hypocrisy of the perpetrators who profess to support the ideals of the freedom of speech and freedom of expression but threaten journalists who expose them for what they are. It seems to me that so many have forgotten the massive commitment that thousands of people had to achieve our democracy, many of whom lost their lives. This appears to have been forgotten too quickly and it is extremely disappointing and saddens me a great deal.

The recent harassment of Peter Bruce, Tim Cohen, Suna Venter and others is reprehensible. Whilst physical abuse, or the threat thereof is traumatic, the mental and emotional torture that it brings is also a huge worry as it can manifest as serious health problems. This was evident in Suna Venter's case where the anxiety resulted in her developing a dire heart condition which ultimately resulted in her death.

Any form of intimidation and harassment is unacceptable.

Also, as we live in the age of a robust online environment, the intimidation has extended to internet trolling where journalists have been denigrated on various social media platforms through untrue and insulting posts, as well as embarrassing images that have been photoshopped. Any form of intimidation and harassment is unacceptable.

At this juncture in our fragile democracy we need to support journalists, and the press in general, to promote the ideals of freedom of speech and freedom of expression which are enshrined in our Constitution.

I urge law enforcement agencies, the courts and NGO's to act against those who flaunt the constitutional rights of the media and individuals and, I urge fellow citizens to provide support by standing up to these bullies.

The words of Václav Havel, the first president of the Czech Republic, should provide inspiration and motivation to journalists, "Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance."