(Wall Street Journal) — A rift has opened between South Africa’s ruling political party and the nation’s newspapers, stoking a debate over the durability of democratic freedoms in the continent’s largest economy. South African journalists are alarmed by recent government proposals they say reflect a growing bid to crack down on the press, including a bill that could jail journalists for disclosing what officials deem state secrets. Media members, as well as civil-rights, business and labor groups, have voiced concerns, with some citing a broader increase in hostility among some ruling-party members and police against those who portray officials in an unflattering light. The government says it is trying to curb sensationalistic coverage that in its eyes conveys an impression of a state under siege. “When the government has an outbreak of acne, the media call it leprosy,” South Africa’s government spokesman Jimmy Manyi said in an interview. “They blow everything out of proportion.” Tensions over the media are part of a searching national debate over the political course of a key African democracy, which held its first multiracial elections in 1994 and enshrines media freedom in its Nelson Mandela-era constitution.
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