South Africa | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

South Africa

South Africa

Freedom of the Press 2005

2005 Scores

Press Status


Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)


Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)


Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)


Freedom of expression and the press, protected in the constitution, is generally respected. Nevertheless, several apartheid-era laws remain in effect that permit authorities to restrict the publication of information about the police, national defense forces, prisons, and mental institutions and to compel journalists to reveal sources. In November 2004, the parliament passed the controversial Law on Antiterrorism, which had been vigorously opposed by press freedom advocates and other elements of civil society. While this opposition forced the government to shelve the legislation earlier in the year, it reintroduced the law after its resounding victory in April's general election.

A number of private newspapers and magazines are sharply critical of the government, political parties, and other societal actors. For primarily socioeconomic reasons, most South Africans receive the news via radio outlets, a majority of which are owned and controlled by the state broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). However, a number of independent community radio stations operate throughout the country. The SABC also dominates the television market; the country's only commercial television,, reaches under 40 percent of the population. While editorially independent from the government, the SABC has come under increasing fire for displaying a pro-African National Congress (ANC) bias and for practicing self-censorship. In January, the SABC broadcast live a campaign speech by ANC leader and president Thabo Mbeki, denying similar coverage to the opposition. In addition, 2004 saw the government reveal a heightened sensitivity to media criticism. In April, the government ordered members of the South African Parliamentary Press Gallery Association to vacate their parliamentary office space and relocate off-site. In September, the ANC threatened to sue the newspaper This Day for publishing a list of names connected with a parliamentary probe into the abuse of government travel vouchers. According to the Johannesburg-based Freedom of Expression Institute, community radio stations feel pressure from ANC officials to produce positive coverage at the risk of licensing and advertising sanctions.

Reporters continue to be subjected to occasional instances of threats and harassment. In February, journalist Mpumi Phaswa of the SABC was assaulted by relatives of Joseph Zitha, the suspected leader of a criminal syndicate, after attempting to take a photograph of Zitha. In April, a police officer threatened to beat journalist Frans Der Merwe of the Limpopo Mirror and Zoutsopansberger newspapers. South Africa features vibrant press freedom advocacy and journalists organizations. Internet access is unrestricted and growing rapidly, although many South Africans cannot afford the service fee.