Repeated warnings from the South African government that the press here should ''get its house in order'' have crystalized into legislative proposals.
The government-appointed Steyn Commission has just completed a lengthy report on the news media in South Africa. One of its chief stated aims was to ''prevent emergency measures being taken,'' presumably by the government. Mandatory new media guidelines, the commission concluded, were preferable to the specter of censorship.
The commission sounded friendly enough to the press when it noted that ''too often the press in particular is simply a handy punchbag for deficiencies which lie elsewhere.''
Yet the steps proposed by the commission, and now being reviewed by the government for possible legislation, were seen as a body blow by much of the media here.
The liberal Rand Daily Mail, an English-language newspaper, warned that the proposals amounted to a ''perhaps fatal assault on your right to be kept informed of what is happening in your own country.''
The Sowetan, a black newspaper, said the proposals would ''bring the end of the 'almost free' press in South Africa.''
The Afrikaans press, generally supportive of the government, showed more sympathy for the findings. In an editorial, Die Transvaler said, ''In view of the growing intensity of the threat in South Africa we cannot carry on as before.''
Still, Die Transvaler and other Afrikaans newspapers remained critical of some of the central steps proposed.