South Africa | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

South Africa

South Africa

Freedom of the Press 2006

2006 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 of the press, protected in principle by the constitution, are generally respected in practice. 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 May, the Johannesburg high court issued a gag order against an article on the "Oilgate" corruption scandal set to appear in the independent Mail and Guardian newspaper. The article-following up on an earlier report alleging the misappropriation of R15 million (about US$2.5 million) by the ruling African National Congress-was gagged because the newspaper refused to reveal its sources of information for the story (which was allegedly illegally obtained). The gag order was lifted in June; however, in September the government issued a subpoena to the Mail and Guardian's online host, requiring the M-Web company to deliver records of a bank statement related to "Oilgate," published on the Mail and Guardian website.

South Africa features vibrant press freedom advocacy and journalists organizations, and a number of private newspapers and magazines are sharply critical of the government, political parties, and other societal actors. In addition, in 2005 the government continued to reveal a heightened sensitivity to media criticism-including accusing critical journalists of racism and betraying the state. In May, then minerals and energy minister Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (later appointed deputy president) proposed introducing legislation that would compel journalists and civil society groups to "speak responsibly" on sensitive matters and would charge violators with incitement; the proposal was forcibly condemned by both the Freedom of Expression Institute and the Media Institute of Southern Africa. Reporters are occasionally subject to threats and harassment and are sometimes forcibly denied access to official proceedings. In May, officials in Limpopo province barred South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) journalists from entering the provincial legislature; two weeks earlier, an adviser to Limpopo's premier accosted SABC employees following the broadcaster's coverage of local politicians. In December, police used force to prevent journalists from The Star newspaper from covering former deputy president Jacob Zuma's rape trial.

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 SABC. However, a number of independent community radio stations operate throughout the country, though some stations report difficulty in attaining the appropriate license. The SABC also dominates the television market with three stations; still, the country's two commercial television stations, and M-net, are reaching ever greater proportions of the population. Although editorially independent from the government, the SABC has come under fire for displaying pro-government and pro