In particular, the ANC believes that the media has a special role in the implementation of its National Democratic Revolution. According to its 2010 NGC discussion documents, “The ANC holds that in our National Democratic Revolution (NDR), the media should contribute to the transformation of our country. Building social cohesion and promoting values of a caring society are an essential part of the battle of ideas and must underpin and inform the manner in which the media operates. The accountability and fairness of reporting are central to the objective assessment of the gains of the NDR.”

The ANC also makes no secret of its media goals: “Our objectives therefore are to vigorously communicate the ANC’s outlook and values (developmental state, collective rights, values of caring and sharing community, solidarity, ubuntu, non-sexism, working together) versus the current mainstream media’s ideological outlook (neo-liberalism, a weak and passive state, and overemphasis on individual rights, market fundamentalism, etc.).”

The ANC believes that the media must be transformed as part of its struggle on what it calls the “battlefield of ideas”. It has taken numerous legislative steps and other actions to achieve its communication goals – many of which are irreconcilable with its professed support for freedom of expression.

Freedom House, the widely respected monitor of global civil, political and media freedom has categorised South Africa since 2010 as being only “partly free” in terms of press freedom. In its 2015 report it concluded that press freedom in South Africa is on a downward trajectory. The reasons that it cites for downgrading South Africa include the following:

All these developments provide serious grounds for concern about the future of press freedom in South Africa. This is particularly the case because our outspoken press – together with the independence of the courts and our vigorous civil society organisations – are the last lines of defence against those who are intent on capturing the state and on undermining the constitutional values on which our new society has been founded.

By Dave Steward, Executive Director of the FW de Klerk Foundation