OCTOBER marks the anniversary of another very dark day in the history of South Africa – on October 19, 1977, the then Justice Minister, Jimmy Kruger, outlawed three newspapers and ushered in an era of harassment and intimidation against journalists seeking to tell the truth.
While South Africa joins the rest of the world in recognising World Press Freedom Day in May each year, South Africa also acknowledges October as an additional month of focus on media freedom and the importance of a free, impartial press that can tell the stories of all the people of this country.
Globally, democracy and press freedom are under siege in various forms and the situation in the country is not an isolated one. Globally, the independence and survival of media outlets are facing severe challenges.
Across the United States, Hungary, Poland, Turkey, and countless other nations, journalists and media organisations are confronting threats, harassment, and censorship.
In 2023, as South Africa’s banks move to close the transactional accounts of all the Sekunjalo-related companies (more than 50 of them), media freedom is once again under threat.
Standard Bank are Independent Media’s bankers and because they have decided that Independent Media is persona non grata, they no longer wish to have the media group as clients.
Since no other bank will take Independent Media on as a client either, as all of the others are following the same suit as Standard Bank, that could leave this country’s largest print news publishing house without the ability to operate.
This is because South Africa follows very stringent financial laws and regulations which necessitate a bank account.
We are told that we all need to be banked and in fact, there are active campaigns to educate and encourage us to open accounts. But, once people are in the system, there is no way to get out and when the system no longer likes or has no further use for the customer or their money, they are thrown to the wolves.
What does this have to do with media freedom you might ask?
Pretty much everything would be the answer.
A democracy, according to the United Nations, is defined as: “Providing an environment that respects human rights and fundamental freedoms, and in which the freely expressed will of people is exercised.”
“Fundamental freedoms” is the key here. One of the most important is the fundamental right to have a voice and let it be heard – provided it is not seditious or hate speech.
Eradicating an entire publishing group that overwhelmingly represents the majority of South Africans, and those who pre-1994 had no official voice in South Africa at all, is a direct threat to democracy.
But then, maybe this is the banks’ and the system’s agenda? To do away with providing an alternative perspective on what is happening in our country and our world? Because, by removing opposition, the singular world narrative that is unfolding globally, will be allowed to flourish unhindered here.
Let us not forget what is really at play. The so-called developed world is technically bankrupt – financially and morally. Africa is the promised land. He or she who owns or controls Africa owns and controls everything – our rich resources which also include our people.
Today, Independent Media, along with other Sekunjalo-related company colleagues, are at the Competition Tribunal court for a showdown that will go a long way in determining the media giant’s future existence and de facto that of all our freedoms.
If the banks get away with shutting down an entire media group, they also get away with what appears to be a very real attack on our very democracy.
Independent Media’s battle to retain its ability to transact is not theirs alone – it is all ours as it is our media freedom and our democracy that is really at stake here.
Let’s not let it happen. Justice must prevail – while it still can.