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S. Africa press balks at strictures

Two of South Africa's biggest daily newspapers have been warned they are looking for a "confrontation" with the government because they now indicate at the end of news reports if these have been censored because of government decrees.

The warnings have come from the political columnists of two major Afrikaans government-supporting newspapers who say the matter might be regarded as "childish" if "it was not so serious."

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The South African government is very touchy about charges that it has tampered with the freedom of the press.The last thing the government likes having said is that it is trying to keep the country in the dark about what is really happening, and virtually daily reminders of the censorship imposed on newspapers are calcualted to irk officials considerably.

When it suits the government's books, it make much of the fact that the press in South Africa is still the freest onthe African continent.

Nonetheles,oppositinnewspapers are often at logger- heads wih the government because it has continually eroded press freedome -- although there is no one particular law actually labeled "press censorship."

But there are laws that make it virtually impossible for newspapers to report fully -- or sometimes at all -- on defense force matters, certain police matters , the supply of oil, and the happenings in South African prisons. Newspapers are not even allowed to give the names of people arrested under the security legislation without the government's permission, or to report sabotage attacks on declared strategic installations. Nor may they publish photographs or drawings of prisons or prisoners, and so on.

Altoghether thre are about 100 laws restricting the press.

But the restrictions have come about bit by bit, and many South Africans are not aware of how far the government has gone to ensure that they are allowed to read less and less about more and more subjects.

But now two newspapers in the country's financial capital, Johannesburg, have decided to try to bring home to their readers at least some of the restrictions that prevent newspapers giving the full story about certain matters.

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The papers are the afternoon Star -- the biggest daily in the country -- and the morning Rand Daily Mail.

Readers of both papers are warned when they are not getting all the facts by little symbols at the bottom of news reports.

he Rand Daily Mail uses a drawing of a pair of scissors, and the Star uses a bold cross with the words: Report Restricted.

Both appers then explain in briefly which law is involved.

The Star justifies its decision to warn its readers when its news is beig censored by saying that "a country kept in ingorance . . . through creeping censorship . . . is ill-prepared -- or left ot be dangerously complacent. . . . . For the public's sake, the Star does not intend to let the situation go by default."

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