As the world celebrates World Press Freedom day today, South Africans and the local media have reason to rejoice as the state of press freedom here at home continues to improve.

World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993 and has been marked every year since to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

Since 2002 Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has published the World Press Freedom Index, a snapshot of the media freedom situation based on an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists in 180 countries including South Africa.

The degree of freedom available to journalists in 180 countries is determined by pooling the responses of experts to a questionnaire devised by RSF. The criteria used in the questionnaire are pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, and the quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information.

In the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, South Africa ranked 31st overall with a score of 20.12, up eight places from 39th in 2016. No journalists, citizen journalists or media assistants have been killed in South Africa while on the job yet this year.

The higher a score is closer to 100, the less free a country’s press is ranked. Norway is ranked number one in the world with a score of 7.6. North Korea is ranked last with a score of 84.9.

South African media has of late faced threats of censorship, particularly from the state. The SABC hogged headlines for months last year after former COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng instructed the TV arm to stop airing footage of the destruction of public property during service delivery protests.

There have also been instances of live sound feeds from Parliament being censored during the 2017 State of the Nation Address and mobile phone signals being jammed during the 2016 Address.

Journalists at the SABC were at some point last year instructed to stop reporting negatively on President Jacob Zuma and have a 70% “positive” news and 30% “negative” news balance on its news cycle.

The 2017 World Press Freedom Index…reflects a world in which attacks on the media have become commonplace and strongmen are on the rise. We have reached the age of post-truth, propaganda, and suppression of freedoms – especially in democracies,” RSF said.

[Source – RSF. Image – UNESCO]