Johannesburg - Any attempt by government to restrict the free flow of information or to circumscribe the liberty of the media should be opposed, one of South Africa's largest retailers said on Wednesday.
"Pick n Pay Stores [JSE:PIK]
recognises that there is a close link between economic and political freedom and the economic freedom on which business depends flourishes best when citizens are able to rely on an unfettered flow of information that is free from excessive government control and regulation," chairperson Gareth Ackerman
said in a statement.
He was referring to a controversial ANC proposal for a media appeals tribunal, and to the Protection of Information Bill.
"To the extent that the Protection of Information Bill and the proposed media appeals tribunal threaten that freedom, all sectors of South African society are justified in opposing them."
Ackerman said the business sector should not believe itself exempt from this duty of responsible citizenship.
"We thus have no hesitation in adding our voices to those who have expressed their misgivings about the consequences of the governing party's proposals."
All the historical evidence spoke unambiguously on the relationship between political freedom and a free market, he said.
"An open society is one in which government is responsive and tolerant, and political mechanisms are transparent and flexible, in which political leaders can be replaced without the need for bloodshed, and in which the rule of law, property rights and freedom of economic initiative are guaranteed."
Ackerman said throughout the world, nations with more economic freedom were wealthier than nations with less economic freedom.
"There are no wealthy nations that have little economic freedom."
For those reasons, any attempt by government to restrict the free flow of information should be opposed. A better place
"There is no doubt that the South Africa of today is a far, far better place than it was before 1994," Ackerman said.
"We live in a country that is governed not by the unchallengeable dictates of cabinet ministers or security chiefs, but by the entrenched principles of a progressive constitution which binds parliament and citizen alike to a judiciable bill of rights, a free press and an independent judiciary."
Ackerman said the fact that South Africa had escaped its past and had launched itself on a road to prosperity and human rights should be a matter of great pride.
"But those ethical sensitivities which drove us onwards in the days of apartheid cannot be allowed to slumber contentedly now that liberation has come."
Ackerman said that over its history Pick n Pay had had its own conflicts with the press.
"But we have never lost sight of the fact that the media play an indispensable and valuable role in monitoring the conduct and standards of business and that, however irksome this may occasionally be, that role should never be suppressed or intimidated."
Ackerman said any perceived limitation on media freedom would be negatively viewed by the international markets on which SA relied for investment.
"The positive sentiment generated by the World Cup and the consideration that international business is giving to investing in South Africa makes this all the more important".
Foreign investors required the assurance that SA was serious about combating corruption and waste, that government affairs were transparent and accountable, and that information was readily available and reliable.
"In the absence of these features, South Africa's reputation as a destination for foreign investment will suffer, as will our reputation as a state that is governed by the rules of openness and accessibility," Ackerman said.