Condolences continue pouring in as South African and international journalists mourn the passing of veteran journalist and media freedom campaigner Raymond Louw, aged 92, whose death follows only a day after his wife Jean who was 88.
He had been in poor health for some months.
At the time of his passing Louw was the deputy chairperson of the Press Council of South Africa. The council has lauded Louw’s deep commitment to the media industry and press freedom.
“For all his life, Oom Ray, as he was known, was an active campaigner for media freedom around the world,” the council said in a statement, paying tribute to 70 years of Louw’s involvement.
Among the things that have engraved Louw into South Africa’s history is his reporting on the activities of the Five Freedoms Forum formed in response to the apartheid government’s last state of emergency. This coalition of progressive civil society organisations was led by the late journalist Zwelakhe Sisulu, Advocate Geoff Budlender, and famous anti-apartheid activist Dr Beyers Naudê.
In 1989 Louw covered the proceedings of the forum’s meeting with the leadership of the still-exiled African National Congress, in Lusaka, Zambia.
Louw was founding member of the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF). SANEF’s executive director Kate Skinner said Louw was absolutely passionate about media freedom.
“He was somebody who worked on a whole lot of policy and legislation issues. What he was trying to do was to make sure that our media environment is as free as it possibly could be. And he worked tirelessly on that issue.”
Skinner said Louw, who seemingly had endless reserves in his tank, kept going even at his advanced age. According to Skinner, he still did thousands of hours of pro bono work for SANEF. He carried these tasks out in addition to work he did that focused on advancing media freedom in Africa and the rest of the world.
He was involved in the work of several media freedom organisations over the seven decades of his career. The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) said they will remember his unwavering belief in the importance and the power of courageous and principled journalism.
“We are deeply grateful to you Raymond, for your unwavering dedication to the promotion of media freedom and freedom of expression in Africa and the world. You will continue to inspire us and generations to come,” the institute said. Louw was chairperson of MISA’s South African chapter.
Skinner said SANEF staff have been inundated with an overwhelming outpouring of sympathy from people paying condolences and commenting on Louw’s life.
“The phone has been ringing off the hook with people calling and commenting about his life. One issue that we all agree on is that it was an unbelievably amazing life. He can be proud of what he achieved. Just the work in all these different organisations that he contributed to,” Skinner said.
Fellow SANEF founding member Mary Papayya said he made a significant contribution in the fight for an end to punitive legislation against media freedom.
“He was always at the round tables on these discussions and deliberations. He was passionate about access to information and the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) and ensuring the protection of journalist sources.”
Louw still had misgivings about the South African government’s plans regarding press freedom. Some of these concerns were aired when the Press Council of South Africa paid tribute to former Press Ombudsman Joe Thloloe on his retirement in 2018.
It was Louw who co-opted Thloloe to join the council in 1989. According to Thloloe, Louw was vehemently opposed to state regulation of the media. “Our argument is that the media must regulate itself because then you have maximum freedom of expression,” Thloloe said.
Louw did predicted a titanic battle between the press and government if the latter insisted on having control over the press. “They have waiting in the wings a plan to introduce a media appeals tribunal which will take the place of the Press Council and result in government control of the press," Louw explained. He was hopeful, however, that new layer of journalists would raise their voices along with the old guard.
Louw’s son, Derrick, said they appreciate the outpouring of support as they are still coming to terms with the news of his parent’s passing. He said so far there has not been an opportunity yet for the family to make formal arrangements for members of the public who want to pay tribute to Louw’s life and legacy.