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Communication, Freedom and Change, Vol. 7 - 2000, No. 4

Press Freedom and Citizen Agency in South Africa: A Rhetorical Approach

, pages: 55-68[open access]

South African democracy, in stark contrast to the apartheid regime, holds freedom of expression to be a fundamental, entrenched right. This is one of the hard-won victories of the negotiated revolution of 1990 to 1994. Freedom of expression, and its corollaries, such as freedom of the press, are embedded in a new culture of democratic deliberation that truly permeates the South African public sphere. Citizen agency is put to the test in how expression of values is activated in the media. Three sites have been carved out for the purpose of this article. First, how public engagement strategies are devised and proposed in the glossy, lifestyle and fashion magazines, usually not associated with democratic transformation and agency. Second, how mass circulation newspapers have elaborated a standard reporting procedure (supplements) by which the nation is given a voice - and one that is staged as being both public and deliberative about its own freedom of expression. Third, a bulletin for mass consumption that accompanied the writing of the new Constitution. Citizens in the making were made to argue and invent the public sphere. All three sites share a fundamental belief that citizen agency is rooted in what is called a "plasmatic" strategy by which the simulacra of autonomy do help foster public agency.

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