Media Freedom Score ‘Surprising’

by Aug 18, 2010All Articles


Cape Town – South Africa has scored a “surprising” 5.6 out of 10 for a free and independent media according to the first results of an openness monitoring index launched by the Open Society Foundation of South Africa.

The grant-making organisation’s executive director Zohra Dawood said this was surprising “given reports of attempted political interference in news reporting and mismanagement of the SABC”.

The Open Society Monitoring Index (OSMI), done over two years, looked at three main dimensions (each with nine sub-dimensions) of openness including accountable and responsive government institutions (5.5), adherence to the rule of law (4.3) and free flow of information (4.7) – under which free and fair media falls.

Twenty-five industry experts scored the different sub-dimensions based on data collected by the Democracy in Africa Research Unit at the University of Cape Town. 

Speaking at a press conference in Cape Town, Dawood said despite the score, government’s proposed information bill should be a matter of concern for all South Africans.

“I don’t think there is a place in a democracy, particularly a constitutional democracy, for secrecy,” Dawood said, adding that the foundation would continue to support civil society in fighting the introduction of the bill.

Free and fair elections

Dawood said the bill’s intent to “over classify information and create an opaque category” of what is or not in the national interest was an elusive concept that could be abused and manipulated.

“These are risks we ought not to take in the interests of an open society,” she said.

The lowest scoring dimension, adherence to rule of law, was probably affected by “appointments to the National Prosecuting Authority, the demise of the Scorpions and the birth of the Hawks” said Dawood.

“At the time of scoring, levels of confidence were not great, based on a whole range of issues and developments in the sector.”

Free and fair elections under government accountability scored the highest at 7.4.

Despite this, Dawood said more needed to be done on this front.

Nurturing dialogue

“We ought to be looking at electoral reform in South Africa,” she said, adding that it was unfortunate that the Van Zyl Slabbert Commission on the South African electoral system had been “shelved”.

Professor Robert Mattes who worked on the project agreed with her saying that sub-dimension would have scored even higher were it not for party lists’ “lack of accountability” in the electoral system.

Dawood said the point of the survey was not to “show up government”.

“The idea is to nurture a continuous dialogue about the kind of open society we want to strive for irrespective of the politicians that emerge at a given time,” she said.


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