South Africa | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

South Africa

South Africa

Freedom of the Press 2009

2009 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 is protected in the constitution and generally respected, and South Africa has vibrant press freedom advocacy and journalists’ organizations. Nevertheless, several apartheid-era laws that remain in effect—as well as a 2004 Law on Antiterrorism—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. There has been an increase in the use of interdictions and gag orders by both governmental and nonstate actors in recent years. Since 2005, the independent weekly and online daily Mail & Guardian has received at least three government gag orders to stop reporting on corruption scandals.

Members of government and other political figures continued to display a heightened sensitivity to media criticism in 2008, in some cases accusing journalists of racism and betraying the state. In December, Jacob Zuma, president of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party, launched a US$700,000 defamation lawsuit against cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro (known as Zapiro) for a September cartoon in the Sunday Times; the suit also targets the Sunday Times itself and Johncom, the newspaper’s holding company. Journalists are occasionally harassed and assaulted. For example, Shapiro received death threats, reportedly from angry ANC supporters, after the controversial Zuma cartoons were published. In October, a Swazi journalist was harassed by South African police and his photographs were deleted while he was attempting to cover a protest at a border post.

A number of private newspapers and magazines—including the Mail & Guardian, the Cape Times, and the Sunday Times—are sharply critical of the government, political parties, and other societal actors. The state-owned South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) dominates broadcast media. While officially editorially independent, the SABC has come under increasing fire for displaying a pro-ANC bias and practicing self-censorship. In 2008, the United Democratic Movement, an opposition party, filed a complaint with the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), accusing the SABC of granting scant airtime to smaller parties and of cutting a scheduled interview with five opposition parties in favor of live coverage of an ANC rally. The ANC later filed its own complaint with ICASA, accusing the SABC of favoring a new party that was critical of the ANC. Both the ANC and the rival Congress of the People (COPE), which was founded by ANC defectors, accused the SABC of biased coverage of the events surrounding the 2008 split that led to COPE’s formation. SABC journalists in turn accused members of both parties of intimidation in the run-up to 2009 elections.

For primarily socioeconomic reasons, most South Africans receive the news via radio outlets, a majority of which are controlled by the SABC. While ICASA is involved in efforts to expand the number and broadcasting range of community radio stations, the process is slowed by lack of bandwidth and bureaucratic delays. While the SABC’s three stations claim most of the television market, the country’s two commercial television stations, and M-Net, are reaching growing proportions of the population. According to governance watchdog Global Integrity, the government has threatened to withdraw advertising from newspapers that report on corruption and other scandals. Internet access is unrestricted and increasing rapidly, with approximately 10 percent of the population enjoying regular access during the year. However, access costs remain prohibitive for many South Africans.