Saturday, September 18, 2010

Freedom of information and freedom of ideas

The temptation for governments to crush dissent on the alleged grounds of protecting national security is an ancient one. In 399 BC, Socrates was sentenced to death on charges of failing to pay due reverence to the gods of Athens and thereby corrupting the minds of Athenian youth. Socrates was condemned, in other words, for reasons of national security.

Unfortunately, not much has changed in the last 2,400 years. In Zambia, the ruling MMD has for a number of years now been pushing for statutory regulation of the media on the grounds of - you guessed it - national security. The Zambian media has, on the whole, displayed remarkable courage in strongly resisting such regulation. In South Africa, the ruling ANC is pushing for the establishment of a so-called Media Appeals Tribunal (MAT) and the enactment of the Protection of Information (POI) bill. Both the MAT and the POI bill have attracted strong opposition from the media, intellectuals, the general public, and even from more unexpected quarters, such as elements within the ANC itself, as well as its Alliance partners.

Freedom of information and freedom of ideas are essential ingredients of a strong, sustainable human society. Their presence does not guarantee success, it only makes success a possibility. Their absence, however, guarantees ultimate failure, no matter how convincing temporary success may seem.

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