Media freedom is under threat in South Africa, cartoonist Zapiro warned at a discussion hosted at Wits University this week, writes Tamlyn Stewart in The Times.
Speaking at a discussion in Johannesburg on political cartooning, Zapiro, whose real name is Jonathan Shapiro, said: ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œI am concerned about freedom of the press. There are warning lights flashing.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â
Zapiro said a press tribunal to judge stories, proposed by the ANC, was ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œan appalling ideaÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â.
Signs of encroachment on press freedom included recent interdicts served on the Mail & Guardian .
Zapiro said pre-publication censorship, as allowed by the Film and Publications Bill ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Â ostensibly to prevent the publication of child porn ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Â was also a warning light.
The governmentÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s threat to withdraw its advertising from the Sunday Times after it published reports critical of Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang was cause for concern.
Zapiro also cautioned against the planned acquisition of the media group Avusa [which owns The Times and Sunday Times] by Koni Media.
Commenting on KoniÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s ties to high-profile current and former government officials, he said: ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œConsidering the signs, and the harassment [editor] Mondli Makhanya has been put under, IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢m not particularly confident they will leave the Sunday Times to do its own thing, and if there was a problem around that, it would be very scary in terms of press freedom.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œLuckily we have an excellent Constitutional Court that has a healthy respect for the publicÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s right to know, fair comment and freedom of expression.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â
Zapiro , who calls himself a ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œfreedom of expression junkieÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â, said: ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œI donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t gratuitously go out of my way to piss people off.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â
ANC president Jacob Zuma is suing Shapiro for R2-million over cartoons which Zuma said have impaired his dignity.
Wits University journalism professor Anton Harber said cartoonists find themselves increasingly the target of criticism and attacks, and described ZapiroÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s cartoons as being of ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œconsistent quality and biteÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â.
Cartoon researcher Andy Mason said cartoonists are ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œemblematic of democracyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â and warned that freedom of expression runs the risk of being ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œeroded by stealthÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â.
Click here to read the full report, posted on The Times website.