President Obama Misfires on Press Freedom


President Obama continued his African odyssey as he traveled to South Africa, where he once again proved to be “the tone-deaf President.”

In a joint press conference with South African President Jacob Zuma, President Obama chided the American Press Corps for what he saw as breaking rules of press conference decorum by asking too many questions. President Obama complained that “his press” tried to get in “three or four or five questions in there,” while seemingly complimenting President Zuma on his ability to control his own press corps.

Sadly, President Obama must have skimmed over the part in his briefing on South Africa that discussed the fact that the South African government has been trying to suppress the freedom of the press in an aggressive manner over the last few years.

South Africa’s news media has been playing an important game of tug-of-war with the government for guarantees of press freedom.

Over the past five years, South Africa’s government has passed a series of laws that seek to restrict the ability of journalists to break news stories to the public.

To make matters more difficult for a free press in South Africa, the nation’s largest news agency happens to be the state run media outlet South African Broadcasting Corporation. The internet has not been all that helpful either because the government has a monopoly on the telecommunications market through their firm Telkom.

In fact, South Africa is a perfect example of the dangers of state run media in a democratic society.

While the President’s condemnation of “his” press corps was made in a lighthearted way, and could in no sense be taken as serious, it opens the door for criticism that the President doesn’t take the threats against a free press in Africa (specifically South Africa) seriously.

safrica freepressIronically, one of the main aspects of the President’s developing African policy is to encourage press freedom throughout Africa.

Honestly though, even if the President had gone to South Africa and trumpeted the importance of a free and unfettered press – wouldn’t the rest of the world have a hard time taking him seriously right now?

On the heels of the AP records gathering scandal and the Fox News/James Rosen investigation scandal, the President does not have much cache to bluster about freedom of the press.

Perhaps the goals of this trip should have been a little less ambitious.