Prominent print and broadcast journalists here and in New York called on the South African government yesterday to stop restrictions and other attacks on the news media in the racially segregated nation.
The journalists, as well as journalism teachers and students, took their censorship protests to the South African Embassy and to the South African consulate in New York, presenting officials there with petitions signed by more than 1,500 people that condemned recent crackdowns on news coverage.
"Our grave concern is for the safety of our colleagues in South Africa," said John Seigenthaler, editorial director for USA Today and publisher of the Nashville Tennessean. "We are pleading, really, for an attitude that permits journalists to function freely and report on the crises and deaths that occur daily."
At parallel news conferences, both sponsored by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, the Washington and New York journalism groups expressed concern about becoming news participants instead of news reporters. But they said they had decided to join in the protests because they believe press censorship and news media attacks are increasing.
"Like many of you, I have a slightly uncomfortable feeling being in a demonstration," said David Marash, a news anchor at WRC-TV, Channel 4, who is also chairman of the Committee to Protect Journalists. But if we don't stand up to protest this, who else will and who else should?"
South African police have beaten and jailed local and foreign journalists and confiscated film and other materials. More recently, the South African government has imposed a press blackout in areas where racial protests and violence have occurred.
Joining Seigenthaler and Marash at the embassy protest were Charles Dale, secretary/treasurer of The Newspaper Guild; Raymond H. Boone, a member of the journalism faculty at Howard University and the former editor-in-chief of the Afro-American newspaper chain, and Jeremy Levin, the Cable News Network correspondent who was held hostage in Lebanon for 11 months.
The Washington group was allowed inside the embassy yesterday to deliver what was described as the first installment of petitions protesting press censorship.
In New York, ABC correspondent and producer Gil Noble, WCBS-TV anchor Jim Jensen, Foreign Correspondents Association head Roy Murphy and two others met for 15 minutes with two consulate officials and presented their petitions.
"All the world knows the country is in the throes of deep social turmoil," Noble said. "To deny coverage of these upheavals is indefensible."