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South Africa's media tribunal: US ambassador weighs in on press freedom

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Themba Hadebe/AP

(Read caption) US Ambassador Donald Gips addresses the Open Society Foundation at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, South Africa on Wednesday. Ambassador Gips called for South Africa's government and journalists to work together amid growing tensions over a proposed media tribunal and information bill that could jail reporters for publishing information that officials want kept secret.

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The US Ambassador to South Africa, Donald Gips, waded into the rough waters of South Africa’s debate over media freedom, giving a speech on the need both for responsible reporting and for a media environment free of governmental interference.

Speaking at the South African Institute for International Affairs, a private think tank on the campus of Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, Ambassador Gips suggested that both the media industry and the South African government should find “common ground” in the search for solutions.

"I believe the challenge here is to balance that right of criticism with the need for media professionalism and standards for truthful and fair reporting,” Mr. Gips said. "The overturning of apartheid offered South Africans opportunities to come together to create a Constitution that is a model both in terms of citizen responsibility and for its protection of the freedoms so many fought to achieve. South Africa must not turn away from that history now. America still believes that a free press serves as the front line in the defence of democracy." (Read the speech here in its entirety.)

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