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What is the South African media's Black Wednesday about?

Black Wednesday is today an important platform for discussions on media freedom and the extent to which media freedom improved from during the apartheid era.

On 19 October 1977, the apartheid government banned several media, including newspapers. Picture: Supplied.

JOHANNESBURG - On 19 October 1977, the apartheid government banned several Black Consciousness organisations. These were organisations they deemed a threat to the regime at the time.

Included in this was the banning of several media, including newspapers. Besides banning independent media in an attempt to hide horrendous acts by the regime at the time, authorities acted quickly after coverage of Steve Bantu Biko's murder in September the same year. Biko was one of the leaders of the Black Consciousness Movement, and was arrested in August that year under the Terrorism Act.

This move was done in terms of section 10 of the apartheid government's Internal Security Act, which allowed them to arrest, detain and or ban whomever it felt was a threat to the regime.

The media gag was to stop journalists from trying to expose the regime, and so the day was deemed Black Wednesday.

The day is now marked as an important platform for discussions on media freedom and the extent to which media freedom improved from all those years ago.

RECENT THREATS TO MEDIA FREEDOM

On 22 October 2011, 34 years after the Black Wednesday, the Protection of State Information Bill - also referred to as the secrecy bill - was passed in the National Assembly, which was a big step backwards in the advancement of democratic principles.

Furthermore, the bill contradicted certain constitutional provisions which promote access to information.

The bill was therefore widely opposed, hence its passing on the said date was equated to the Black Wednesday incident.

Hundreds of South Africans wore black clothes or black armbands protested outside Parliament in rejection of the bill.

Protests were also held countrywide where civil society organisations and other concerned members of the public picketed against the secrecy bill.

SA media now face further threats to their independence, with significant job cuts across the sector, threats from the public and private people who are held to account, as well as growing misinformation from untrustworthy platforms and social media.

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