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Human Rights in South Africa
Flag of South Africa South Africa
Population: 42,718,530 (July 2004 est.)
Capital: Pretoria
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South Africa Human Rights Report
» intro | 1a | 1b | 1c | 1d | 1e | 1f | 2a | 2b | 2c | 2d | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6a | 6b | 6c | 6d | 6e | 6f

Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice; however, these rights can be limited by law in some circumstances. Several apartheid-era laws that remained in force posed a potential threat to media independence.

The Constitution bans the advocacy of hatred based on race, ethnicity, gender, or religion that constitutes incitement to cause harm. In July, the SAHRC ruled on a petition by the Freedom Front that the slogan "Kill the Boer, kill the farmer," chanted by the ANC Youth League on two separate occasions in 2002, was hate speech, and a violation of the law. No action was taken against those responsible.

The media were active and expressed a wide variety of views; however, some journalists expressed concern that the Government wanted to control the media.

All newspapers were owned by conglomerates. One of the prominent companies, New Africa Media, was a black African-owned consortium that controlled the country's largest circulated daily newspaper, The Sowetan, as well as a larger publishing business, Times Media Limited. Print media reached approximately only 20 percent of the population, due to high levels of illiteracy, the lack of newspapers in rural areas, and the cost of newspapers. The majority of the population received the news through radio broadcasts from the national broadcaster (SABC) and community radio stations.

The government-owned SABC continued to own and control the majority of the television and radio outlets. The SABC was managed by black African executives, provided broadcasting in the country's main African languages, and offered news coverage of the Government and the leading opposition parties. The SABC maintained editorial independence from the Government, although the balance between editorial independence and national interest remained a delicate topic with government officials. Critics alleged that the ANC wants greater control over the SABC. On November 19, Parliament approved a new SABC board; however, opposition parties and other critics expressed criticism that the management was chosen for political reasons without regard for media expertise or relevant experience. SABC-TV, which broadcasts in seven languages, captured approximately 85 percent of viewership.

SABC dominated the radio scene with its 11 stations, including 9 broadcasting in African languages and Afrikaans, and several commercial radio stations, although there were a large number of low-power, not-for-profit community radio stations. Many of these stations had talk shows that carried lively debate on government policies and practices. Government broadcast regulators regularly issued community radio licenses.

The only commercial television station,, reaches 75 percent of the population; however, its share of the viewership was only approximately 10 percent. Most of's schedule consisted of newscasts and foreign-produced programs; the Government urged to meet its licensing conditions, which required programming to include at least 30 percent local content. Midi Television, a black-owned consortium composed of a number of associations and syndicates representing workers, women, and persons with disabilities, held majority ownership of In addition to, the SABC competes with two pay-per-view broadcasters, M-NET (encoded UHF transmissions) and MultiChoice (satellite broadcasts). Pay-per-view stations reached approximately 5 percent of viewers.

In October, the Government granted Radio Islam a 4-year license.

There were several government agencies with media-related responsibilities, such as the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA). The ICASA is not completely independent from the Ministry of Telecommunications. A bill that included further limits to the power of ICASA and gave greater authority to the Minister of Communications had not been signed it into law by year's end.

The Minister of Communications has a direct role in the awarding of telecommunication-service licenses.

The Government and media owners established the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) in 2002 to encourage ownership and control of, and access to, media by historically disadvantaged communities and historically diminished indigenous language and cultural groups; to channel resources to community and small commercial media; to develop human resources and capacity in the media industry; and to research media development and diversity. The beneficiaries were community media and small commercial media.

High-ranking government officials on occasion reacted sharply to media criticism of government programs and problems and at times accused journalists, particularly black African journalists and editors, of disloyalty and white journalists and editors of racism. A large number of journalists believed that the Government's sensitivity to criticism caused self-censorship in the media.

Several laws remained in effect that permitted the Government to restrict the publication of information about the police, the national defense forces, prisons, and mental institutions. While these laws were not used often, journalists perceived them to be a threat to constitutional rights. These laws were not invoked during the year.

The Foreign Publication Board reviewed and judged written and graphic materials published in or imported into the country. The Board had the power to edit or ban books, magazines, movies, and videos, and it regularly exercised that power, mostly regarding pornographic material.

Internet access was unrestricted for persons with the ability to pay for the service. The number of Internet users continued to expand quickly. All major newspapers maintained Internet sites, most of which were updated daily with the latest news and features. In 2001, Parliament passed a bill that provides for state monitoring of telecommunications, including the Internet and e-mail (see Section 1.f.).

The Government did not restrict academic freedom.

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Data Source: US Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs.