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Newspapers Say Censorship Like Soviet Union

March 23, 1988

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ Newspapers likened government press restrictions to those of the Soviet Union and said Wednesday the closure of a militant newspaper for blacks endangers all South African news media.

The closing of the New Nation is ″a chilling reminder of the lengths to which the government is ready to go in its attempts to impose thought countrol,″ the Star of Johannesburg said in an editorial.

″After this, no other newspaper is safe,″ South Africa’s largest daily declared.

Home Minister Stoffel Botha, who has censorship powers under the emergency in effect since June 12, 1986, issued a decree Tuesday prohibiting publication of the New Nation for three months.

The weekly tabloid is financed by the Roman Catholic Church. Its editor, Zwelakhe Sisulu, has been in detention for 15 months.

Botha also warned a monthly Cape Town community paper, Grassroots, that it faces closure or prior censorship if it continues publishing ″subversive propaganda.″

Grassroots was the eighth paper to receive a warning, the first step in the closure process, and the New Nation was the first to be shut down.

An editorial in the Cape Times said:

″If the newspapers continue on traditional lines in spite of such warnings, will they share the fate of New Nation? The censorship system seeks to achieve a compliant press on Pravda-like lines, rather than a wholesale closure of publications, which would be embarassing and inconvenient.

″If it is really felt that newspapers are fomenting revolution, why not charge them in the courts? There are laws enough.″

Business Day, a conservative Johannesburg daily, declared:

″The decision to close New Nation for three months confirms what has been plain for some time: South Africa can no longer claim to have a free press and in this respect, as in others, it has left the ranks of civilized nations.

″In the past it was possible to argue that the press was restricted, but free, and even to make self-flattering comparisons with the British Official Secrets Act. This is no longer so.

″It seems idle to protest at the closing of a newspaper when that newspaper’s editor, Zwelakhe Sisulu, has been in detention without trial for more than a year. Government’s opponents - or those it deems opponents - are locked away indefinitely for crimes which cannot be defined in the law, and are punished without a chance to rebut the charges against them.

″The decision to suppress New Nation rests on the minister’s opinion that the newspaper propagated communism, but neither the minister nor the law can define the crime for which the newspaper is punished. Radical newspapers will be circulated ... as they are in the Soviet Union, from hand to hand.″

A pro-government daily, The Citizen, took a different view.

″Newspapers still report most of the news that is fit to print, and where reporting is restricted, they still, in the main, give a fair picture of what is happening,″ it said. ″But South Africa is in a state of emergency. The press is subjected to stringent restrictions.″

The Citzen also said, however, that court proceedings would have been better than Botha’s action, which was taken ″on the recommendations of a faceless panel of so-called experts exercising judgments that are personal, based on no specific criteria or guidelines, and cannot be tested in a court of law.″

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