NAB discussion reflects on state of news media and press freedom in South Africa
The National Association of Broadcasters marked World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 2023 with a special webinar titled “Advancing Press Freedom in the Digital Age”.
The roundtable discussion was led by Professor Franz Kruger, associate researcher with the Wits Centre for Journalism and Deputy Press Ombud with the SA Press Council. Kruger presented his research paper, Greening Africa’s News Deserts, which speaks to issues relevant to the modern African media landscape including the causes of “news deserts” (areas where journalistic media are disappearing) in Africa and the sustainability issues and opportunities facing local and community media.
The webinar also looked at the state of press freedom in South Africa today, as well as the impact of digital platforms on the news media.
“In the Global South there is a concern about the sustainability of media, particularly at a local level Those of us sitting in the big cities underestimate how much wider our information system is. The information that we hear is impoverished when local information systems are poor,” said Kruger.
“Things happen in the remote areas and they never find their way into the big metropolitan areas, and that’s a problem,” he added, reflecting on information gaps experienced by many in Africa.
Kruger said that social media platforms like Meta and Twitter and digital like Google had a massive impact on the operations of news media outlets, shifting audiences away from traditional platforms.
“Audiences tend to get their information from other places and that has direct economic and business impact on how [traditional news outlets] do their work. The impact is simply big because people are going elsewhere for information. That affects your audience size, income and other things,” he reflected.
On the issue of whether South Africa should be concerned about its state of press freedom, Kruger said: “we should be worried about it all the time. We’ve seen journalists attacked and robbed, sometimes even while on camera. The short answer is we should always be concerned. We should always worry”.
World Press Freedom Day, according to UNESCO, “acts as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics”.