Democracy and free press are inseparable

True democracy is our only future, and the building of an infrastructure for a system of free press is integral to that; free flow of information cannot be overstated in the maintenance of a democracy. Our pro-Mthwakazi organisations must be seen, and in real terms, be open to public scrutiny.

The challenge is simple; if Mthwakazi is serious about change, fostering an infrastructure for a robust system of free press must be our target; if we cannot stomach free media we are not yet ready for democracy.

When it comes to democracy and free speech our pro-Mthwakazi politicians will have to appreciate the choice is not one or the other, but both. The two rely upon each other for survival, and the two must be facilitated within a system ably protected by a strong independent and competent judicial system; for, judging what is worth knowing is too important a role to be left to politicians. People must be allowed to choose how to (or even how not to) express themselves, and be protected after.

We are not naïve to the fact that free press is not faultless; it has its ups and downs, worse still with the emergence, expansion and increasing dominance of online media and the increasing competition for ‘breaking news’, unverified or unverifiable news finds itself on the market with, at times, damaging effect to its victims. That said, everyone must be free to express their views.

However, it is not too much to expect journalists and publishers to take their responsibilities to society seriously; we demand that everyone taking the important responsibility of informing the public exercise effective self-governance without denying the public the right to know. Free speech does not equal freedom to lie; those who deliberately or otherwise publish improper, slanderous, illegal, hurtful and damaging information must face proportionate consequence of their actions.

We respect privacy rights, but these should not be allowed to be a secret haven for criminal activity by our citizens. The darkest forces thrive in secrecy, privacy rights must not be confused with the illegal withholding of information; we must remove all opportunities for darkness to influence our space, and this is where free press becomes handy. If our politics is to change, we must be prepared to accept that privacy is not absolute and will at times be questioned where there are legitimate reasons to do so.

The right for the public to know must not be compromised. Of course, we will not always have something to say but that is not to say we will not always need the right to free speech. Free speech and free press is the only security available to all. As pointed out earlier, we accept the imperfections and vulnerabilities of free press but that should not be allowed to deny it unobstructed space to operate in; the public must never be unfairly denied access to information.

Giving protection to free media must be central to our political revolution, and the first step forward will be allowing the media to self-govern while the judiciary system will protect the public from undue media intrusion and the media from unfair public victimisation. We need to work towards preparing, in Mthwakazi, a space that objectively extends liberties and privileges to all, and a space that fosters the tools for freedom. A free press is undeniably a vital tool in that direction; free press is essential in affording all communities in Mthwakazi a chance to be heard.

This is not the time for Mthwakazi to be driven by emotions but for progressive politics to take control of our space. What is worrying is the apparent fragility of the commitment to democracy by some Mthwakazi individuals and groups who quite clearly cannot stomach free speech. Quite clearly, we are still witnessing unfair, aggressive and at times illegitimate attacks on individuals and groups who express views that are not in line with popular tenets in the region.

Right to free speech is a non-negotiable right; transparency is essential, and press freedom is essential in the maintenance of accountable governance. Risks of free press aside, free media will be a vital tool for the Mthwakazi space to maintain freedom and political accountability. Our leaders will have to learn to deal with it, and our people will need to learn to use it effectively. In the same thread we also appeal to journalists to be responsible in their use of the free media space; freedom of speech is not freedom to lie.

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