Communications Minister Faith Muthambi on Tuesday said the Western Cape government was destroying freedom of speech and media freedom by calling on all its provincial departments to stop subscriptions to the Cape Times newspaper.
“Sadly the Western Cape provincial government has trampled on this hard won freedom by dictating which media may and may not be consumed,” Muthambi said in a statement.
“They have implemented a crude form and censorship and have removed the freedom to choose from provincial department heads.”
In a letter to all department heads, director general Bert Gerber issued a directive for the departments not to renew their subscriptions or start subscriptions with the paper.
“Cabinet has discussed with concern the ongoing decline in the quality of reporting in the Cape Times. As we get newspaper cuttings every day, Cabinet considers it to be fruitless expenditure to renew Cape Times subscriptions,” Gerber wrote.
Muthambi condemned the move.
“It is particularly troubling given our long and painful history of media censorship and media repression,” she said, adding that freedom of expression was an indispensable element of democracy.
Muthambi said South Africa had a strong and robust media who had taken on the watchdog role of society and government.
If the Western Cape government was unhappy about any of the paper’s reports, it could have approached the editor or lodged a complaint with the Press Ombudsman instead of boycotting the paper, she said.
Western Cape premier Helen Zille, however, said she saw no fault in the non-renewal of the subscriptions by the provincial government.
“No newspaper has the right to demand that anyone subscribes to it. Everyone, including governments, make informed consumer choices,” she told Sapa through an email on Monday.
She said the provincial cabinet had taken a unanimous decision not to renew its subscriptions and this in no way threatened press freedom.