The Sunday Times writes in an editorial that it is confident the voices of reason in the ANC will triumph and stop the slide towards authoritarianism visible in some of the recent steps taken or contemplated against the media.

The Sunday Times writes in an editorial:

It is starkly ironic that this week’s commemoration of Black Wednesday — the iron-fisted crackdown on the media by the National Party regime in 1977 — took place in the midst of the worst threats to South Africa’s media freedom since the dawn of democracy.

Two senior staffers of the Sunday Times are facing arrest for having been in possession of the hospital records of Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang in order to expose her drunken and abusive behaviour during a hospital stay. Not only have the police deployed one of their top investigators to probe the disappearance of her files, but there is a growing awareness that the country’s intelligence services have been unleashed to dig up dirt against the newspaper and its leadership and to carry out the totally illegal — and unconstitutional — monitoring of cellphones.

The heavy-handed actions of our democratic state have not, however, ended there. The Minister in the Presidency, Essop Pahad, has made clear his intention — read that of his principal, President Thabo Mbeki — to pull all government advertising from this newspaper. In his online letters, the President has made it clear that he views the media as a de facto opposition, as key players in a bid to undermine his administration, as pawns in an attempt by faceless international forces to cripple the revolution he purports to represent.

Were these thoughts and actions harmless, they would be laughable. But they carry with them a very real threat, not just to the individuals involved, but to the Constitution and the very democracy that the self-same people who put Mbeki’s party in power in 1994 to end 48 years of apartheid rule fought and died for. There is a very frightening aspect to the recent tendencies shown by the government; were they not looking on with disgust when a succession of apartheid regimes locked up journalists for doing their job?

The reality is that the South African media — for all their shortcomings— are doing a solid job of chronicling post- 1994 South Africa and holding power to account.

In so doing we have celebrated South Africa, exposed her sores and given platforms for debating the nation’s future.

The publication of the truth about Tshabalala-Msimang — the content of which the government has not challenged — is a part of that task. This is not about self-aggrandisement, attention-seeking or anti-ANC agendas. Rather, it is about a collective of professionals ensuring that the public’s right to know is both observed and respected, with or without the co-operation of the government.

As the Sunday Times, we are confident that voices of reason within the ANC will triumph. We are confident that the slide towards authoritarianism will be halted by those within the party who still hold dear the values of the Freedom Charter and the Constitution.

We are confident that, at the end of the day, a view will prevail within the ANC that a free press is the lifeblood of a democratic society.

*This editorial first appeared in the Sunday Times on Octoer 21 2007.