SAfrica govt says still committed to press freedom

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JOHANNESBURG, Oct 13 (Reuters) South Africa is still committed to press freedom and has no secret plans to censor the media, the arts and culture minister said, after some ruling party officials accused the press of harbouring a racist agenda.

''The value we place on a free, independent and outspoken press in democratic South Africa cannot be overstated,'' Pallo Jordan, of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), said in a speech yesterday night and emailed to Reuters today.

''A free press can be the vigilant watchdog of the public against the temptation to abuse power,'' he added.

Miffed by press scrutiny of their private lives, some senior ANC members have recently accused the media of harbouring a racist agenda, raising speculations that the government may seek to censor the press.

''It has become the favourite hobby horse of some in the media to question and interrogate the ANC's track record and commitment to media freedom,'' Jordan said.

He said tension between government and the media was an inevitable feature of democracy that enhanced freedom.

''It is pointless to deny its existence and it is short-sighted to suggest that such betrays a secret ambition to censor the media on the part of government.'' ''The ANC and the government it leads has nothing to fear from criticism and it will not wilt under criticism or close scrutiny. It is my view that robust debate can only help us to deepen our democracy.'' South Africa's print media is mainly privately owned, while the broadcast media is still dominated by state-owned SABC.

REUTERSGL PM1724

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