Media Freedom Day – The Day After

It might be Monday everywhere else but in South Africa, it’s Black Wednesday. Media Freedom Day! When, on October 19th 1977, the Nationalist government banned iconic, opinion shaping, newspapers such The World, Weekend World and Pro Veritate, arresting editors and journalists, and banning several Black Consciousness movements, they forever marked in red (and it wasn’t ink) the date on the South African media calendar as … Black Wednesday! Media Freedom Day! Man, that really does sound a lot better than Black Wednesday. I guess you gotta have a little grey hair to remember just how far we have come along the road to personal freedom of expression in South Africa. Media Freedom Day it might be but we still need to remind ourselves, that a great number of people paid a dreadful price for this “free” day. So how do we celebrate media freedom? Not just by attending lectures and listening to memorial speeches, important as those speeches may be on the day. But as ordinary South Africans who have inherited a legacy? What are we going to do tomorrow to exercise the freedom that we celebrated today? The day after Media Freedom Day! Mark Twain, the American author and satirist once observed that “the man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them”. Today, we’d be a little less sotto voce. What this really means is that “the man who does not read might just as well be illiterate”. The bottom line is simply that, although nominal literacy rates in South Africa are encouraging, functional literacy is probably on the decline overall. Almost 20 years after liberation, only 29% of adults read a daily newspaper and only 35% a primary weekly title. Magazines fare little better. So much for active participation in our democracy! You know how we can celebrate the Day after Media Freedom Day? By going out tomorrow and reading a newspaper. Read it online. Read it in print. Download an app and read on it on your mobile. And here’s the beautiful thing about living in Mzansi in 2009. If you don’t like what they are saying, phone a radio station. Start a blog. Twitter from your mobile. Write to the editor. Just make sure your voice is heard. Having the right to freedom of expression and failing to express yourself is like slowly dying of thirst when you are lying on the banks of a river. Happy Day After Media Freedom Day! Have a drink on me.