By Bianca Silva
Last Sunday the Sunday Times front page read: “EDITOR, JOURNALIST TO BE ARRESTED.” This was for illegally possessing the health records of the health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. South Africa is a country that boasts democracy, freedom of speech and freedom of the press, yet it seems as though the government is reverting back to ways reminiscent of apartheid, the very opposite of what this country fought for. The Sunday Times had controversially published a story which reports that Tshabalala-Msimang allegedly drank large amounts of alcohol and shouted at hospital staff during her stay in hospital when she was undergoing a shoulder operation. She also allegedly covered up her alcoholic tendencies so that she could get a new liver which she needed because of suffering from hepatitis. Now, in the real world, alcoholics her age do not get new livers, in the same way that if you have suicidal tendencies you are not given preference for a new heart. For reporting and publishing this, editor, Mondli Makhanya and deputy managing editor and journalist, Jocelyn Maker, will almost certainly be arrested this week. Interestingly, government officials have not denied allegations. Instead they are pressing charges for reporting on something that is clearly in the public interest. About R400 000 of the public’s money has been wasted in purchasing newspaper advertisements in explaining that accessing someone else’s medical records is a crime. According to the Press Code of Professional Practice: “The public interest is the only test that justifies departure from the highest standards of journalism.” So what’s the point of freedom of the press if they can’t uncover that which affects the public? It appears that anyone who is critical of the ANC or the government is at risk of what Justice Malala refers to as president Mbeki’s “Stalinist learnings”. Just ask Ms Madlala-Routledge. In a recent Independent Online report, Roy Padayachee, a member of parliament commented to SAfm, said, “We want the media to stick close to the truth and we welcome a diversity of views. But the media has taken on a role of being an opposition to the ANC and the government.”Mbeki has created an atmosphere which makes it easy to paint anyone as “not a team player”. The media is the latest victim of the finger-pointing. Remember during apartheid the media critical of government was dubbed “South Africa’s worst enemy”. This raises an important question, what is Mbeki up to? Is he panicking because he realises he will soon be out of power? I would normally mention content but this edition I urge you to think about freedom of speech and freedom of the press. If you believe in this cause then stand up for Makhanya and Maker. If we want to be able to speak, publish and read freely then perhaps we need to support the press who report in the public interest. Watergate anyone?